Sea Harvest trawler sinks near Cape Town, 11 crew presumed dead

Asearch and rescue operation for 11 crew members who were aboard Sea Harvest-owned fishing trawler that sunk in the Atlantic Ocean has been called off, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). An investigation into the incident is now underway.

Sea Harvest trawler sinks near Cape Town, 11 crew presumed dead
Sea Harvest's F/V Lepanto sank on 17 May | Photo courtesy of SAMSA

The search for the missing crew began on 17 May following a distress call stating a trawler vessel, FV Lepanto, had been taking water rapidly and sinking fast, around 35 miles out from South Africa’s Hout Bay.

The call was received by the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC), based at the SAMSA Centre for Sea Watch and Response in Cape Town, South Africa. The center confirmed to the company the search and rescue mission was called off on 18 May “in view of the significant time elapsed since the accident.”

“Following the sinking of the Lepanto during the late afternoon of 17 May 2024 approximately 34 nautical miles west from Slangkop Point Light in Cape Town, rescue efforts continued for the 11 missing persons. The commendable efforts of [nearby] fishing vessels in the vicinity of the incident location, resulted in both a life raft recovered – one containing nine survivors; and the other being empty. Unfortunately, even with the large number of vessels on-scene, none of the missing persons were found nor any undone life jackets,” SAMSA said in a statement. “The loss of the 11 persons from the Lepanto is most regrettable. MRCC Cape Town expresses its sincere condolences to the family members, friends, and colleagues of those lost to the sea.”

Sea Harvest CEO Felix Ratheb said the nine crew that were saved were provided with a physical evaluation by a doctor and as well as trauma counselling, and have since been reunited with their families.

“Tragically, the missing crewmen are now presumed drowned,” he said. “Keeping our staff safe at sea is our key priority. As a company, we are devastated by this tragedy. We have been in ongoing contact with the families, with a senior team and a counselor visiting each family of the missing men today. We will continue to support them, as well as the rescued men and their families. We are also providing updates and counseling for our broader employee base, as this has been extremely upsetting and sad for all of us. We are working closely with the relevant authorities, primarily the South African Maritime Safety Authority, to establish the cause of the accident as soon as possible. We wish to thank our employees and the rescue organizations for their active search and rescue operations since Friday.”

South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has commenced an investigation to establish the cause of the accident “with the support of the company,” Ratheb confirmed.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) said in a statement it is “deeply concerned about the safety of workers at sea and calls for a thorough investigation by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) to determine the cause of this tragic incident.”
“We urge that measures must be taken before boarding of ships to prevent such tragedies from happening again,” it said. “This should involve tighter regulations for safety purpose, but not to exclude small-scale fishermen from conducting fishing as a subsistence activity. In fact, the government must support those small fishermen to meet all the regulatory measures for safety purposes.”

Sea Harvest Spokesperson Anthea Abraham said mandatory servicing had been completed on the vessel in the week prior to its disappearance.

“She had an excellent safety track record with zero reportable safety incidents in the last five years,” Abraham told IOL.

Source: Seafoodsource