Hout Bay fishermen survive fire and wild ocean

Salvors working on the Olivia Marie, which caught fire at sea last Friday.

Insurance assessors were examining the scorched skeleton of a fishing vessel at Hout Bay Harbour this week after a fire forced the crew to abandon ship in rough conditions several nautical miles off Cape Point in the early hours of Friday morning last week.

A maritime insurance company, Tri-Marine Acceptances, is investigating the cause of the fire that started in the engine room of the 32-metre Olivia Marie and led to a “frantic” rescue of the 26 crew members, who had to climb into a single inflatable life raft after a second one caught alight.

The hake longliner, which is owned by Pescaluna, a family-run Hout Bay fishery, had left Hout Bay on Wednesday April 5.

An insurance assessor, who did not want to be named, said no foul play was suspected and the rescue had worked as it should have. He said the vessel had sent out a mayday after catching fire and all the necessary organisation had been prepared to respond.

According to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), the crew said they were abandoning ship with the “whole vessel” ablaze from a fire that spread rapidly after starting in the engine room.

The Transnet National Ports Authority, and Telkom Maritime Radio Services coordinated a response.

The MRCC said a Liberian-registered bulk carrier, AquaExplore, on its way to St Helena Bay had diverted to reach the scene first, but according to South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) reports, it was unable to recover the crew from the raft.

Next to arrive was a smaller fishing boat, Umfondini, operating out of Gordon’s Bay, and it was able to rescue the crew.

Samsa described the rescue as “a frantic effort” in 15-knot south-westerly winds and 2.6m swells.

Meanwhile, a National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) rescue craft rendezvoused with the Umfondini at 5.30pm and brought the rescued crew to Simon’s Town from where they were transported by road to Hout Bay.

NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon said the still smouldering Olivia Marie had meanwhile continued to drift in a north-westerly direction and had risked running aground and causing an “environmental maritime disaster”, but NSRI rescue swimmers had rigged a tow line to the vessel so that the tug boat, Strandloper, could tow it to deep sea until Saturday when it had been moored at a berth on the seaside of Hout Bay Harbour pier.

Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse said they had received the call at 9.50am about a smouldering vessel that was towed into Hout Bay Harbour on Saturday April 15. Fire crews from Hout Bay, Epping, Roeland Street, Lakeside, Bellville, Kommetjie, Wynberg, Constantia and Kraaifontein responded and extinguished the fire by 5.40pm on Saturday.

He said the cause of the fire was unknown.

A salvage company set up barriers around the vessel to prevent any pollution spills.

Tri-Marine Acceptances managing director Trevor Smith said there had been no signs of any oil or diesel leakage or spills.

Jane Fernandes, wife of Pescaluna owner Gastao Fernandes, thanked the vessel’s crew and everyone who helped with the rescue and clean-up operation.

“We lost a man in December and know what it’s like to get a phone call in the middle of the night. It can only be something bad. Hats off to our skipper, a very able seaman with many years of sea experience… Apart from no lives being lost, the biggest relief is that an ecological disaster was prevented as there was oil and diesel on board, and the vessel could be towed to the knuckle of Hout Bay Harbour.”

She said the crew had been paid and the hake was contaminated and would be destroyed.

Salvors chopping up hake and transferring it to a container on Hout Bay pier.
A maritime insurance company, Tri-Marine Acceptances, is investigating the cause of the fire that started in the engine room of the 32-metre Olivia Marie and led to a “frantic” rescue of the 26 crew members.
Olivia Marie is owned by Pescaluna, a family-run Hout Bay fishery

Boat owner Gastao Fernandes of Pescaluna on Sunday morning, April 16.