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Earlier this month, the NSRI undertook its longest journey yet – 1068 nautical miles – to deliver the fifth vessel in its new ORC fleet to Richards Bay, Station 19. We asked Graeme Harding, who planned the trip, for the lowdown.

“A bad day at sea is still better than a good day on land!” That’s the comment from NSRI’s National Training Manager Graeme Harding on his five-day trip covering 1060 nautical miles to deliver the fifth ORC (Offshore Rescue Craft) to Richards Bay from Cape Town – the longest trip to date for the NSRI.


The ORC Project is an ambitious programme by the NSRI to introduce a new class of deep-sea rescue vessels suited to South African waters, in order to replace an ageing fleet. The new ORC is a 14m search and rescue craft built entirely in South Africa, by South Africans; it is self-righting and purpose-built for rescue operations in extreme conditions. At 14.8m long and 4.8m wide, it can be deployed on rescue missions as far as 50 nautical miles from land and has an expected lifespan of at least 40 years.

The first ORC, 'Alick Rennie', was built in France and shipped to South Africa, and is now based in Durban. The second ORC was partially manufactured in France and shipped as three separate pieces (the hull, the deck and the bulkhead) to South Africa. Two Oceans Marine took moulds from those three sections and, under license to a French boat builder, completed the second ORC, 'Donna Nicholas', now based in Simon's Town.

The third ORC – which was the first fully South African-built ORC – reached Station 17 (Hermanus) in December 2021, while the fourth is based in Table Bay.

The fifth ORC, Rescue 19 – 'Ocean Guardian' – will be able to cover the northern coastline of KwaZulu-Natal up to the Mozambique Border from its base in Richards Bay, the most Northern class 1 station.

Three more ORCs are in the pipeline for Gqeberha, Hout Bay and Mykonos.


Bon voyage

On Tuesday, 6 June, after compiling a detailed passage plan, taking into account weather conditions, emergency systems and obstacles to avoid, Graeme and his crew – NSRI Training Officers Dean Wegerle and Julian Singh, Operational Station Manager Charl Maritz, and Durban duty coxswain Paul Bevis – boarded the 'Ocean Guardian' ORC and embarked on the first leg of their journey.

It took them 14 long hours to reach Mossel Bay, where they refuelled, and slept on the boat in the harbour that evening. The next day was slightly shorter: eight hours to Gqeberha, where again they refuelled and spent the night on the boat. On Thursday, they reached East London in seven hours, and the following day entered Durban Harbour after 14.5 hours at sea.

“We were greeted by a big hurrah in Durban, tug boats spraying water… It was very festive,” says Graeme. “That night we got to sleep in the Durban base building, which was great.”

After refuelling once again, and changing crew so that Richards Bay volunteers – who had travelled down to meet Graeme and co. – could have a chance to train on the boat, 'Ocean Guardian' battled through choppy seas for four hours to reach its home. Accompanied by ‘Alick Rennie' from the Durban base, as well as the NSRI’s Executive Director of Capital Projects Mark Hughes, Graeme and his crew finally arrived in Richards Bay on Saturday at 1 pm, to more cheers and fanfare.


“We stayed in Richards Bay for a few more days to fine-tune the vessel, as well as to conduct further training to bring the Richards Bay crew up to speed. It’s a R21M vessel – we’re taking every precaution to make sure she is well looked after,” says Graeme.

A SAMSA (South African Maritime Safety Authority) Survey was also conducted: all vessels are required to be surveyed annually by SAMSA for safety and certification.

“We are very fortunate to have such a fine purpose-built rescue craft, and thank our donors and all who have made this a reality,” says commander of station 19, Mike Patterson. “There is no doubt that the ‘Ocean Guardian’, which is fully equipped with the most modern search and rescue equipment, will provide us with many years of service in saving lives.’

The NSRI would like to thank Island View Shipping (IVS), which contributed a generous donation to the financing of 'Ocean Guardian'. IVS has been running an annual golf day in support of the NSRI in Richards Bay for 17 years and continues to do so with this year's Maritime Golf Day, planned for 19 August 2023.

We are so grateful for the support we receive from the maritime industry at large and specifically from IVS.

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