Tourists in chill­ing ferry ride

Near-dis­as­ter ends warmly for 68

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SOYISO MALITI

“I THOUGHT I would die; I thought I would freeze to death out there. There were re­ally big waves around the boat and they were splash­ing into it.”

These are the words of Zara Walls, 9, of Bris­bane in Aus­tralia, who had taken off her shoes and was ready to jump into a wild sea af­ter the Robben Is­land ferry, Thandi, car­ry­ing 64 pas­sen­gers and a crew of four, be­gan tak­ing on wa­ter in rough seas at about 2.18pm yes­ter­day.

The wind was pound­ing at 40 knots and the swells were 2-3m high, ac­cord­ing to the NRSI.

Most of the pas­sen­gers were tourists, like Zara and her fam­ily – her mom Ash­ley, her sis­ter and fa­ther.

The alarm was raised by a May­day dis­tress call from the ferry, re­ceived by the Transnet Ports Au­thor­ity, which im­me­di­ately alerted the NSRI and other res­cue units.

The NSRI Ta­ble Bay sea res­cue craft, Spirit of Day and Spirit of Vo­da­com, were launched to join the Robben Is­land pas­sen­ger ferry, Madiba 1, that was al­ready on scene.

NSRI sta­tions Bakoven, Hout Bay and Melk­bosstrand re­sponded, as did a pri­vate boat, two po­lice boats and the Transnet pi­lot boat.

The AMS/EMS Skymed res­cue he­li­copter, Air Sea Res­cue and an SA Air Force Oryx he­li­copter were ac­ti­vated, although they later stood down.

Other res­cue units in­cluded Cape Town Fire and Res­cue Ser­vices’ dive unit, Cape Town Dis­as­ter Risk Man­age­ment and am­bu­lances. The po­lice dive unit was placed on alert.

The NRSI’s Clive Lam­bi­non said when res­cue boats reached Thandi, which was closer to the is­land than the main­land, the ferry was found to be list­ing and tak­ing on wa­ter.

Most of the pas­sen­gers were still on the ferry, but some had taken to the life-rafts, which were bob­bing on the swell.

Lam­bi­non said all pas­sen­gers and crew were trans­ferred by NSRI from Thandi and from life rafts on to the Madiba 1 and NSRI’s Spirit of Vo­da­com and brought to the Port of Ta­ble Bay, where they were as­sessed by paramedics.

A woman was trans­ported to hos­pi­tal by am­bu­lance in sta­ble con­di­tion but suf­fer­ing from back pain and a few pas­sen­gers were treated for mild hy­pother­mia.

Emerg­ing from the dra­matic in­ci­dent with soak­ing jeans, a relieved Walls and her daugh­ter Zara hit the shop­ping mall for new sneak­ers.

Zara said: “I didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pened to us. I was re­ally scared. At that mo­ment, I just kept telling my­self I was go­ing to be okay.”

The in­ci­dent did not cloud Zara’s day out on Robben Is­land. “I loved it, we saw Nel­son Man­dela’s prison cell. I would come again.”

Walls said: “It was a bit scary. The wa­ter was very rough. I think the boat was too small for the waves out there to­day. Thank­fully there were plenty of life jack­ets.

“We all moved to the back of the boat with the life jack­ets on. It was quite adventurous out there.”

Zara and her mother al­most jumped, hav­ing taken off their shoes.

Walls said: “We re­alised we would not have to jump out of the boat when a very calm gen­tle­man said to ev­ery­one, ‘We’re not jump­ing. Why would we jump if the boat is still afloat?’

“I did not think for one sec­ond that I would die. I was just con­cerned about my two daugh­ters. When the boat was list­ing, the res­cue crew ar­rived. They were try­ing to res­cue us while calm­ing us down at the same time.”

She com­mended the NSRI, say­ing: “Ev­ery­thing was well-man­aged. They came as quickly as they could. They may have taken 20 min­utes to get to us.”

The fam­ily will be at the Vic­to­ria Falls to­day.

The ferry was towed back to the V&A Wa­ter­front.

R19.50 incl vat

PIC­TURE: NSRI

The NSRI Ta­ble Bay duty crew were ac­ti­vated by the Transnet Na­tional Ports Au­thor­ity (TNPA) fol­low­ing a May­day dis­tress call from the Robben Is­land pas­sen­ger ferry, Thandi, re­port­ing that it was tak­ing on wa­ter.

JP Du­miny

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