At 08h00, Thursday, 14 September, NSRI Gqeberha duty crew were activated following a request for urgent assistance from a harbour service vessel reporting their skipper overboard and trapped in the wheel house that had been ripped off the vessel and flung into the sea, 8 nautical miles off-shore in Algoa Bay.
A crewman onboard the casualty vessel had raised the alarm directly by phone to an NSRI Gqeberha coxswain, while the cargo ship motor vessel, that they were servicing with re-supply at the time, contacted Gqeberha Port control on VHF marine radio to escalate the urgent emergency alarm.
It appears that while transferring supplies from the service vessel to the cargo motor vessel, a crane, lifting supplies onto the cargo motor vessel, caught on the wheel house of the service vessel by what appears to be a freak cause of unexpected chance, ripping the wheel house off the service vessel with the service vessel skipper still n the wheel house which landed in the sea.
The cargo vessel was reportedly routinely underway at the time while the transfer of supplies was being carried out.
The 2 remaining crewmen onboard the service vessel, with no means of communications or ability to steer or manoeuvre their vessel, had noticed their skipper pop up from under water but he was being blown away from them.
The skipper had found himself in the wheel house submerging under water and that was his first realisation of what had happened.
He had managed to open the cabin door under water to escape the sinking wheel house but wearing safety boots and jeans he was at risk of sinking under the weight of his gear.
He managed to grab a hold of a life ring that had earlier been attached to the wheel house and that had also popped to the surface as the wheel house sunk further under water.
Through quick thinking and commands communicated between the 3 seamen - the 2 crewmen on the stricken vessel and their skipper in the water - the 2 crewmen onboard the service vessel put to anchor which swung the vessel around in the direction of their skipper (by the wind direction) and they were able to throw him a rope and they pulled him onboard.
They are both commended for saving their skippers life.
The cargo motor vessel Captain initiated all engines to be stopped.
MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) and NSRI EOC (Emergency Operations Centre) had been alerted.
Telkom Maritime Radio Services assisted with marine VHF radio communications.
NSRI Gqeberha duty crew and EC Government Health EMS responded to the NSRI Gqeberha rescue station where the NSRI rescue craft Rescue 6 Alpha and Spirit of Toft were launched, accompanied by EMS rescue paramedics.
At that stage NSRI and EMS were responding to what we still thought to be the skipper trapped in the cabin under water.
NSRI Gqeberha duty controllers, Gqeberha Port control, Telkom Maritime Radio Services and NSRI EOC assisted MRCC in the coordination of the rescue operation.
On arrival on the scene it was found that the local 56 year old male skipper was safely onboard his damaged vessel and he was in the good care of his 2 crewman who had initiated medical treatment for hypothermia and for shock.
NSRI rescue swimmers and an EMS rescue paramedic were transferred onto the casualty vessel which although damaged she remained structurally sound and at no immediate risk.
The EMS rescue paramedic and NSRI rescue swimmer continued with medical treatment to the skipper for hypothermia, shock and minor cuts and bruises.
He admitted that he had only realised that the wheel house had been ripped off his vessel and flung into the sea when he found himself sinking under water inside the wheel house.
The cargo motor vessel is believed to have put to anchor some distance away on her coming to a halt in Algoa Bay and we believe she will await the essential supplies delivery.
A tow-line was rigged from NSRI's Spirit of Toft and we towed the casualty vessel into the Port of Gqeberha where she has been safely removed from the water.
The casualty skipper was brought safely ashore in the care of the EMS rescue paramedic, assisted by NSRI medics, onboard the casualty vessel.
Despite the ordeal he requires no further medical treatment.
He and his crew have respectfully requested not to be contacted by media.
NSRI commend the crew of the casualty vessel for safely and quickly rescuing their skipper and saving his life.
NSRI commend the skipper for his efforts that led to him escaping the sinking wheel house and managing to aid his 2 crewmen to his safe rescue.
Our thoughts are with all 3 men and their families in this time as they grapple with the enormity of the tremendous efforts they were forced to endure in a very swift time frame.
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