Trawler sinks within seconds

Trawler sinks within seconds 08/05/2005 21:53 – (SA)

Port Elizabeth – A cigarette probably saved fisherman Johan Ehlers’s life early on Sunday.

He was on deck smoking when a Brazilian ship collided with his trawler nine miles off Sardinia Bay in the Eastern Cape, causing it to sink within seconds and claiming the lives of 14 crewmates.

Ehlers and the captain, the only other person to be rescued, said the impact threw the Mossel Bay-registered Lindsay trawler into the air before it sank within 20 seconds.

The 30m trawler was hit by the 178m Ouro do Brazil, en route from Singapore to Brazil, just after the trawler anchored for the night. Ehlers, 37, said he went on deck to call his wife in Mossel Bay.

After the cellphone conversation, he lingered to smoke a cigarette, and that is when he felt an almighty thump.

“I grabbe a hold of a lifebuoy and held onto it. When I looked again, the boat, and all my friends, were simply gone.

“I can’t believe they could all possibly be dead now,” Ehlers said with tears in his eyes.

Tried to stay calm

He said that he tried to “just stay calm and hang on to the lifebuoy” until he was saved, for the sake of his wife and children.

Before being taken to hospital for observation on Sunday morning, he said he only spent about an hour in the icy water before the crew of the Ouro do Brazil came to his rescue.

Ehlers, who only had to be treated for shock, was brought to the harbour by an NSRI boat.

In a massive search for survivors by the NSRI, police and air force, the help of all sea-going vessels within a radius of 25 nautical miles was called in.

At one stage, 12 boats and ships were searching for the fishermen.

Skipper

At about 02:40, a Cape trawler, the Lincoln, saved the Lindsay’s skipper, Paul Landers, 36, who was also found clinging to a lifebuoy.

Landers was landed at 08:00 and it was found that he had broken ribs and had inhaled diesel and other gases.

Before being taken to hospital, he was treated aboard the Lincoln by NSRI staff and paramedics. He was in a stable condition.

The NSRI said the rescue operation was hampered by swells of up to 5m and a strong south westerly wind.

Four of the Lindsay’s lifebuoys and a number of lifejackets were discovered at sea, together with several pieces of wreckage.

At 09:00 vessels in the area called off the search and the air search was called off shortly after that.

The families of the Lindsay’s crew, who live either in Mossel Bay or Cape Town, have already been informed of the accident.

By Sunday morning, the Port Elizabeth-based South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa), headed by chief officer Brian Colenutt, had already started a preliminary investigation into the accident.

Colenutt said the Brazilian maritime authority would have to be involved in the investigation since the Ouro do Brazil was a foreign ship.

Shortly before noon, the Ouro do Brazil entered Port Elizabeth harbour in preparation of the investigation into the accident.

The captain, a German, refused to comment

News24 – Cape Town,South Africa

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