The Captain and crew of the Hartbeespoort Dam cruise barge The Alba, of Harties Boat Company, are commended for their efforts to ensure the health and safety of their passengers after their cruise barge became disabled when the motor propellers fouled in old discarded fishing nets and in natural debris before being surrounded and trapped by 1.2 to 1.4 meter high Hyacinth that surrounded the barge in natural drift while they were repairing the motors.
NSRI Hartbeespoort Dam duty crew were activated at 15h17, Saturday, 21 January, to assist in a mass casualty evacuation of passengers from the barge.
After the motors of the barge failed when the barge motor propellors were disabled from old discarded fishing nets and natural dam debris that was floating semi-submerged in the water the Hyacinth had surrounded the barge preventing a simple tow to shore.
The NSRI rescue craft Sea Legs and the SRU (Strategic Rescue Unit) rescue craft Rescue 1 responded.
On arrival on the scene the Captain and his 9 crew members had ensured all 72 passengers were secured into life-jackets, were well hydrated and briefed on procedures to follow.
Before launching passengers had been briefed on emergency procedures by the Captain and his crew who regularly receive NSRI safety training and NSRI safety advice.
Using the NSRI rescue craft and the SRU rescue craft, in 9 relays, all 72 passengers and 10 crew were transferred onto the rescue craft and safely evacuated to shore from the barge despite the 2 rescue craft and the rescue operation being hampered by the dense hyacinth that caused slow progress.
There were no injuries and everyone involved maintained high spirits throughout the operation. The operation completed at 17h30.
The high level of safety performed by the barge Captain and his 9 crew members, who followed safety procedures by the book, was noted and is highly commendable.
It was decided to recover the barge the following day but about an hour after the completion of the evacuation the dense Hyacinth that surrounded the boat separated sufficiently in natural drift to allow the SRU craft Rescue 1 (a large Gemini rigid hull inflatable boat) to tow the barge, negotiating the dense hyacinth, safely to shore without incident.
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