Boat Capsize 90km out at Sea on the Lazuras banks

The Trip

The group was made up of Bryan Gale, Craig Harper, Justin Keyser, Mark Keyser and John Little. Five spearfishermen hoping to shoot some big dogtooth tuna on the Lazuras Banks, where some 80kg plus fish have already been landed. The boat hired was a 33-foot ` T ` Cat skippered by Steve Liversedge operating out of Pemba, Northern Mozambique.

Lazuras Banks

We boarded the boat at 04.30 on Thursday 2 December for the 10-hour trip out to the Banks. Sea conditions were good with a light northerly wind blowing and a small swell running. Five hours into the trip the wind had picked up a bit, 15 knots, lifting the swell but conditions were still fairly good. We arrived at the Banks around 16.30 and anchored in 16m of water towards the northern edge of the Banks, the Banks being a large area of approximately 600 square kilometers situated 90km out to sea from the nearest land.

Engine Trouble

Diesel Fix had been added to the fuel before leaving Pemba and this necessitated the changing of the fuel filters once at anchor. Both motors, 260hp inboard Volvo pentas, refused to start at this stage and with a rising wind making for bumpy conditions, the skipper decided to sort out the problem in the morning.

Disaster

Mark and Justin bedded down in the main cabin with Bryan, Craig, Steve and myself preferring to sleep on deck. At some stage during the night I noticed that the wave sounds on the hull had changed, becoming much shorter and sharper, but put this down to a rising wind. Bryan Gale spoke to me just before 02.00 on the morning of the 3 December voicing his concern that the back of the boat seemed lower than before. The skipper’s torch revealed the frightening sight of water sloping in over the deck from the stern scuppers. These are normally a good 2 feet above the water line and it was obvious that there was something drastically wrong.

No Time

I alerted the skipper who had his crew start bailing, but that fight was over before it started. I woke Mark and Justin and then together with Justin proceeded to try and get the life raft loose from badly corroded turnbuckles. This proved impossible and we eventually managed to hack through the steel cables holding the raft on. The raft was immediately inflated and then I returned back to the main deck cabin to retrieve my bag containing R32000 in cash to pay for the boat hire. This area was waist deep in water and the boat was already starting to turn turtle barely 7 minutes from when we first woke the skipper. With there being a good chance of getting caught under the turning boat, we all quickly abandoned ship and there was no time to worry about the R32000.

Attached to a Sinking Boat

It was now very dark and we found that the front rubber dinghy that five of us were sitting in, was still attached to what we assumed was a fast sinking upside down boat. As there was no knife a mad scramble ensued to find something with which to cut the rope. Rusted pliers did the job, but as we slowly drifted away, elation turned to despair as we realized that the boat, although hull up, was still afloat.

Adrift on the Sea

We tried in vain to fight the current and wind to reach the boat, but the weight of people and the drag of the life raft was too much for the 2hp motor on the rubber dinghy. A stray rope became entangled in the prop, shearing the pin, making the motor useless. It seemed as though we were in for a long drift on the open ocean.

Clever Thinking

Justin Keyser had the brilliant idea of using the outboard motor for an anchor. All our ropes were quickly joined and the motor was dropped over the side where luckily it held on a small patch of reef. A gray dawn revealed the upturned hull 3km away over a heaving sea.

Plans Made

The skipper new that Water Wheels, an 80-foot charter boat from Pemba was due out at the Banks that day so the plan was to stay put and hopefully get picked up soon. We had 2 parachute flares and 3 pencil flares plus 40 litres of water so things were not too bad.

Frustration

The skipper sighted Water Wheels at 06.00 and there followed 6 hours of extreme frustration with Water Wheels coming in and out of sight during the morning. The flares fired did not work and all our attempts at attracting attention seemed in vain. Just when it seemed that perhaps we might have to spend another night on the sea, Water Wheels went right up to the capsized vessel and then headed slowly directly towards us. They had seen us from the beginning but had mistaken us for a small boat that comes from the Comoros to fish on the Banks.

Lost Gear recovered

Mark, Craig and myself managed to get some goggles and flippers from Water Wheels and were soon diving on the upturned boat to try and salvage what we could and hopefully find my bag containing the cash. The next two days were spent diving on the capsized hull and retrieving gear from the bottom in 18 to 23m. My bag was unfortunately not amongst the many items recovered. We returned to Pemba on Sunday evening aboard Martin Visagies boat minus two passports and two air tickets. The lack of these little pieces of paper caused us plenty of problems but it was eventually sorted out just in time for the flight home.

Salvage Operation

On Monday evening a yacht headed out to the banks with salvage gear aboard to try and salvage the hull. Hopefully they will be successful.

On the Bright Side

Although no fish were shot and it was not a holiday by any stretch of the imagination, it was still an amazing experience. Nobody panicked or lost their cool and everyone had a very positive attitude on the dinghy and life raft and once rescued. To be with guys of this calibre made a dangerous and unpleasant situation a lot easier.

Points to Note

Lots of things could have been done differently but the main one is not to venture out to sea when your equipment is not 100%. To do so is to put the lives of your crew at risk and possibly end up with someone losing their life. When you are this far out to sea it is a good idea to have at least one or two sets of dive gear ready for a short notice getaway. Having a plan in the case of an emergency when you are staying out to sea at night also makes good sense. Check the life raft to make sure that it is possible to free it.

Safe diving, John.