Hout Bay tourist boat deaths blamed on owners, crew


CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The capsizing of the tourist boat Miroshga in Hout Bay last year, which led to the deaths of two people and one of the biggest sea rescues yet off the Cape Peninsula, could have been averted had the owners and crew taken action to correct what was wrong with the vessel and the crew, an investigation by the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) has found.

Had the crew been properly trained in emergency procedures and carried them out effectively, the vessel might not have capsized and two people might not have died.

It was “highly probable” more people would have died had it not been for the NSRI and rescue divers, who got passengers trapped under the hull to safety, the report said.

Samsa has handed the report to the police and prosecuting authorities, who are to decide if anyone is to be prosecuted.

The vessel was on a whale-watching trip to Seal Island near Hout Bay on October 13 when it capsized with 39 people on board, including four children. British tourist Peter Hyett and crew member John Roberts drowned.

The Miroshga is owned by Southern Ambition 384 cc, trading as SA Marine Safaris.

On the day of the incident, the crew failed to execute efficiently the launching of the life raft, anchoring the boat and raising the distress alarm.

Investigators concluded that contrary to the law, crew members had not practised these emergency procedures. Had they done so, this might have resulted in the Miroshga not having capsized, or “persons being rescued more efficiently and reduction in loss of life”.

Roberts was not wearing a life jacket when the boat capsized. His body was found on the seabed the next day.

Hyett’s body was retrieved by the NSRI during the rescue.

Most of the survivors were suffering from shock and hypothermia and 24 were admitted to hospital.

Samsa found the owners had allowed the skipper to run the tour vessel without having the correct endorsement to run passenger vessel operations. This requires 100 hours of passenger vessel experience as crew, life raft training and certification as well as first aid and firefighting training and a radio operator’s certificate.

“Had the skipper completed the passenger vessel endorsement, including the approvedlife raft training, he would have had improved insight into the requirements to respond to emergencies and been able to instruct the remaining crew in the correct use and deployment of the life raft,” the report said.

“While some of the crew had received training as tour guides, none had completed (the) approved safety induction training… required by legislation. An intervention by the owners, skipper or crew in the above case could have prevented this accident.”

When the Miroshga got into difficulties, the passengers had tried to deploy the life raft. However, they cut the rope that attaches it to the vessel, so it drifted away with no one in it.

Requirements were that the company be able to say how many passengers were on board at the time and give their names, but the company was unable to do this. This delayed rescue efforts. Passengers had been shown how to don life jackets, but had not been given essential safety information, such as how to abandon ship or deploy life rafts.

The Miroshga, a catamaran, was built in Port Elizabeth in 2002 as a whale-watching vessel and operated from Hermanus. It was sold in 2008 to the current owners and modified. The inboard engines were removed and outboard engines installed.

This affected the watertight divisions beneath the deck and allowed water to flood between the engine compartments.

Samsa found “little effort was made to ensure the watertight integrity” of the vessel. Crew said they had to pump out water every morning, and bilge pumps were always switched on when the Miroshga left harbour. Bilge pumps serve to pump out water after a specific incident, and are not intended to be used all the time to get rid of flooding. The correct procedure would be to fix the leaks.

Other problems the investigation found were: none of the hatches were watertight; plastic cable ties were used to secure the fuel tank; no effort was made to correct the starboard list of the Miroshga; and water leaks were not repaired.

Electrical problems included an incorrectly wired port bilge pump, an unsecured battery, exposed electrical cabling, and bilge alarms that weren’t working. There were several places where water could enter the vessel.

The Miroshga had left Hout Bay partially flooded. With no functioning bilge alarms, the crew were not alerted to the water level rising beneath the deck. Flooding caused both engines to fail and the vessel began drifting into shallow water, where swells became waves, and the vessel capsized.

Passengers had to jump into the water because vessels that came to the Miroshga’s aid were unable to come alongside as the water was too shallow.