A GROUP of fishermen spent an agonising 16 hours limping into Port Elizabeth harbour after their trawler was struck by a freak wave – killing one of them and injuring two others.
The 50m Japanese tuna longliner arrived in Port Elizabeth at about 7am yesterday after hitting problems at 3pm on Wednesday.
The vessel – similar to the longliner which ran aground in Clifton, Cape Town, last month – is called the Wakashio Maru 83, and is owned by the Maruwaka Suisan Company in Japan.
The Maru is one of a fleet of vessels that operates along the Southern African coastline from their Cape Town offices.
The dead fisherman has been identified as Achmat Hendricks, 19, of Cape Town.
His aunt, Zaibonesa Carelse, said from Cape Town the family was devastated.
"Management from the Cape Town office came to my office at about 9am to inform me of the incident,” she said. "I was devastated, but I think it will only hit home when his body arrives.”
Carelse said Hendricks, who has two young children, had only been working for the company for about two months.
"When he got the job, they sent him on a training course and then in the last week of May they put him on the vessel,” she said.
"He was very excited and wanted to study to become a maritime chief engineer.”
Hendricks’s uncle, Gasan Carolis, was in Port Elizabeth yesterday to collect his nephew’s body. The young man will be buried in a Muslim ceremony in Cape Town today.
Gardmed Ambulance owner Dave Gardner said one of the injured men had a cut on his head and the other had a suspected broken leg and possible spinal injuries. St George’s Hospital spokesman Natalie Henman said the men were in a stable condition in the trauma unit, but were visibly traumatised.
Details remained sketchy yesterday as police struggled to communicate with the crew who are mostly Indonesians and do not speak English. Police spokesman Captain Stanley Jarvis said skipper Soyisile Khapa had told them, through an interpreter, that the wave had caused chaos.
"After the wave hit, it appears the crew was disoriented and flung around the ship,” he said.
"The crew members scoured the deck after the incident and found Hendricks lying face down in a corner.
"The two injured fishermen were near Hendricks’s body, screaming for help.”
The skipper was unable to explain why he had not immediately sent out a distress call and how far out to sea they were at the time of the incident.
Port authority acting captain Faizal Sultan said they were alerted by the company’s Port Elizabeth agent, James du Preez, at about 5am.
"We were informed that while the vessel was fishing out at sea something happened and one person died and two were injured,” he said. "They told us they were coming to Port Elizabeth due to our port being the closest.”
Maritime Safety Authority head Daron Burgess said a probe was under way.