Three South African crew members on a yacht delivery trip between East London and Port Elizabeth had a narrow escape after their yacht was smashed from behind by a large cargo ship near Port Alfred.
The incident happened in broad daylight at around 6am yesterday as the crew were underway to deliver the vessel to its owner, Quinton Dosson, in Port Elizabeth.
The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) told the Dispatch Online that the ship, which belonged to Sanko Spring Corporation in Japan but was registered in Liberia, smashed into the yacht from behind about 27 nautical miles north of Port Alfred. It was on its way to Britain.
The crew, which included skipper Russell Furlong, Juanita Drewry and teenager Michael Glenister, had to battle for 90 minutes to save themselves after the impact broke their mast, which then fell into the water. They frantically tried to pull the mast from the water, fearing that its wires would wrap around the ship’s propeller and drag them under.
Skipper Furlong , speaking after they limped back into East London harbour, said he jumped from the cabin when he heard a loud bang.
'The ship didn’t stop. I had two concerns – that the mast was lying in the water banging the side of the yacht and could cause a hole that would let water in,' he told the Dispatch.
His other concern was that wiring on the mast could be caught by the ship’s propeller. He got into the water and he, Drewry and Glenister managed to get the mast back on board. They made a U-turn back to East London after assessing the damage.
'There was no doubt we were going to make it back to East London. I’ve had problems in the sea before but this was closest to dying,' said Furlong.
Drewry said she was still frightened when she arrived at shore. 'You don’t get to think about it at the time when such incidents happen, but it is really scary when you think about it when you’ve sat down.'
Glenister’s parents, John and Janine, would not allow reporters to talk to their son, saying he was still shocked.
However, they said they were ecstatic the crew had arrived back home safely. 'I am very relieved that they are safe. I’d rather have been on board than my son but I was at work. It was Michael’s maiden voyage,' his dad said.
Dosson said he tried to track down the cargo ship after he had heard about the incident. He contacted maritime authorities to get assistance and Samsa officials spotted the big ship passing Port Elizabeth.
'They contacted the ship and they (the ship crew) said they missed my boat by 10 metres. It was explained to them that they had hit the boat but (then they) lost contact.'
Samsa investigative officer Peter Kroon confirmed that the ship was registered in Liberia, but said its owners were in Japan. It was common practice for shipping companies to register in countries offering low registration fees, he added. 'We are going to conduct an investigation and contact the flag state (Liberia).'
The likelihood that a cargo ship could deviate at the last moment to avoid a yacht is remote, but the question remains as to why the ship did not make stronger efforts to establish whether a collision had taken place and whether there was any threat to life as a result.
Kroon said the process could take months before it would be finalised.