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02 November 2011

Three days at sea without food and water

Image: Sri Lankan sailors are joyful as they are picked up by the NSRI three days after they abandoned their sunken ship which had caught fire at sea between Still Bay and Witsand on Sunday.Picture: NSRI

Four Sri Lankan sailors survived clinging to a life raft at sea for three days without food or water – thanks to South African authorities who had earlier detained their ship and made them buy safety equipment.

Their 57.5-foot fishing trawler, the Deshan Lanka, was en route to Sierra Leone from Sri Lanka when it caught fire and sank on Sunday off the Cape south coast.

The sailors launched the life raft the authorities had made them buy in East London. They had drifted at sea for three days without food or water when the National Sea Rescue Institute rescued the men 20km off-shore of Still Bay near Mossel Bay at about 2pm yesterday.

The NSRI said the Deshan Lanka had been detained by South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) in East London last month as it had no marine VHF Radio, life jackets, red distress flares or life raft.

According to the website www.ports.co.za, the Deshan Lanka was in port in East London on October 6, 14 and 17.

Captain Peter Kroon, Samsa principal in East London, said the ship had docked early last month in East London to collect bunkers before sailing for Sierra Leone. After performing an ad hoc inspection, he found it lacked safety equipment and it was detained.

“The owner complained and said that it was not part of Sri Lankan regulations to have the equipment. I told him (he) was not in Sri Lanka and that he had to go by our rules. He reluctantly went out to buy the equipment and the vessel was released,” Kroon said.

He said it had left the port about two weeks ago.

NSRI Still Bay station commander Enrico Menezies said yesterday: “We found them 18 nautical miles south west of Still Bay and the nearest land to where they were was Jongensfontein, about 10 nautical miles away. They were quite emotional and appeared very glad to see us, thanking us, and they are all in good spirits. Although the language barrier was a bit of a problem it was clear to see the delight on their faces from being rescued.”

He said the sailors, not yet named as they have not gone through immigration, told rescuers the red distress flares fired after the ship caught fire had not been noticed. They had been out of cellphone range and raised the alarm once they had a connection about 11am yesterday.

Samsa received a distress call and alerted the NSRI. The rescue ship Spirit of St Francis was launched to search for the sailors shortly after they made the cellphone call. A formal investigation was awaited.

- Cape Times