A leaking, ramshackle 154m-long bulk carrier, abandoned by its
crew and with 200 tons of fuel on board, drifted unmanned
overnight perilously close to the rugged rocks of the Wild Coast,
until it was found by a rescue tug at 4am on Saturday and
dragged to safety.
The Amul had left Port Elizabeth five days earlier,
but had only made it opposite Mazeppa Bay
when the crew could no longer contain the flooding in the ship.
The Amul was en route to Alang in India to be scrapped for its
metal and had been detained by the South African Maritime
Authority in Port Elizabeth and forced to make repairs. Weeks
before it had been detained by the Namibian maritime authority
when it stopped at Walvis Bay.
Capt J V Tawari said that at 3.30pm on Thursday, his crew
noticed the flooding in the ship.
"The water came in slowly at first, so we used a pump to force
it out. Overnight, rough sea conditions with big swells caused
more water to fill the ship and the situation worsened," the
Concerns began to mount as the scrap metal cargo began slamming
into the side of the ship's hold, threatening to break through
the wall of the engine room.
At 2pm on Friday, Tawari sent a Mayday call to East London's
Maritime Radio Services.
Nearby fishing trawler Irtych and the ship Rosa Tomassos
responded. Two Air Force BK117s from Port Elizabeth's 15
Squadron Charlie Flight flew to the Port St Johns area with two
National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) swimmers on board, but were
unable to help because of the rough seas.
While they waited to be rescued, Tawari and his crew "saw that
the flooding was getting worse, so we got the most of the crew
off Amul as fast as possible", said Tawari.
Eight of his crew went on to a life-raft and were rescued by the
Irtych, which was the first to arrive at the scene. Another
eight were lifted on to Irtych, which by then had its maximum
load. Worsening sea conditions with rain, 20-knot south-easterly
winds and up to 4m swells, Tawari said, had made it very difficult
for the rescue team to get to himself and the ship's cook, who were on Amul.
When Tawari and the ship's cook eventually abandoned Amul, he
said, they drifted in the ocean swells for about five minutes.
The two sustained minor cuts and bruises, which were treated
when they were pulled on to the Rosa Tomassos.
The rescue took about three hours.
"I'm just grateful the crew is all safe," Tawari said.
About a week ago the Amul had asked for permission to come into
the 12-mile zone to seek shelter and anchor offshore.
After questioning the captain over the radio, the maritime
authority was suspicious and would only allow the Amul to
proceed if it was accompanied by a tug.
A spokesperson said that ships coming past en route to scrapping
tended to cause problems as they were in bad condition.
When it arrived at Port Elizabeth the Comorean-registered ship
was detained because of its condition. Its papers were also not
in order. After repairs and getting it properly registered, it
sailed last weekend.
As a precaution, the maritime authority kept the tug Smit
Amandla on standby.
Transnet National Ports Authority (NPA) spokesman, Terry Taylor,
said on Friday afternoon Maritime Radio Services picked up a
Mayday distress call from the 154m-long bulk carrier which was
22 nautical miles south of Port St Johns and 20 nautical miles
off-shore at the time. They alerted Transnet NPA in the Eastern Cape.
"Fortunately, the (tug rescue boat) Smit Amandla was off Bird
Island at the time of the distress call, so it sailed overnight
to the drifting Amul," Taylor said.
By first light on Saturday, Smit Amandla had reached the Amul
which, Taylor said, had drifted south to Kei Mouth, about
one-and-a-half miles offshore. Crew from the Smit Amandla
proceeded to board Amul to connect the tow lines and spent the
day pulling the Russian vessel further out to sea.
At present the owners of Smit Amandla and the Amul are
negotiating about the future of the vessel. It was having water
pumped out of the hold to keep the vessel afloat.