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Keeping a constant eye on wide blue ocean horizons

by Daria Blackwell 7 Dec 2023 21:10 UTC
Mr Sobantu Tilayi, SAMSA Chief Operations Officer; Mr Almar Schutte, acting Chief of the MRCC and Mr Donald Ratshibvumo receiving an Ocean Cruising Club Seamanship 2022 during an awards event at the Cape Royal Yacht Club in Cape Town in October 2023 © Daria Blackwell

The following article is excerpted from SAMSA's 25-Year Anniversary: Section Two by Sicelo Fayo in Mail & Guardian Partner Content / 1 December 2023

An overview of the role of the Centre for Search Watch & Response, incorporating the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre.

Wrapping up his story of how he'd abandoned his race yacht with a salutation, to survive for a day or so on a flimsy orange life raft in the middle of the Southern oceans, and eventually being rescued a day later by a fellow racer, Finnish engineer and oceans global racer Tapio Lehtinen turned to the audience, paused for a moment and then asked politely: "At this moment I would like everybody who works for the MRCC, Cape Town... please stand up. Is there a representative from the MRCC?"

A few seconds later, with the two representatives of the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre, Acting Chief Almar Schutte and Duty Operator Donald Ratshibvumo having gently risen and stood up in the audience in confirmation of their presence, Lehtinen calmly spoke his heartfelt words of deep gratitude. "

... Yeah, so, all of you... I owe my life to you! I'm very, very humbled. Thank you!" said Lehtinen as he carefully, slowly lowered forward his upper body in a bow to those before him. And as he did so, the audience rose with him and exploded in a crescendo of clapping hands. The sound reverberated throughout the Regatta Centre and spread across the sea waters abutting the Royal Cape Yacht Club, a few kilometres east of the City of Cape Town.

The early evening joint prize-giving ceremony by the London-based Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) and its local sister, the Ocean Sailing Association of Southern Africa (OSASA), was a joyful moment for all involved. The MRCC was honoured on the occasion with an OCC Seamanship Award for its role in the rescue of Lehtinen on those two harrowing Spring days of November 2022.

Likely lost to some in the audience was that it was the second such call by Lehtinen, directly or indirectly, to the MRCC in a space of a year. The first and decidedly most chilling call he'd made earlier was while he was alone, in distress and at risk of death, in the middle of the Southern oceans, a good 800km from the nearest shore southeast of Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

By the OCC's account of the incident during a Global Golden Race event that had reached Southern Africa's waters in early Spring 2022: "Tapio Lehtinen's boat took on water at the stern and sank within five minutes. Tapio set off his EPIRB, donned his survival suit, grabbed his ditch bag, and deployed his life raft just before his Gaia 36 ASTERIA sank.

"He was rescued from the life raft by Kirsten Neuschäfer (who was about 100 miles away at the time of the sinking) and was transferred to a bulk carrier in 3m seas and 25km winds," said OCC Commodore, Simon Currin.

At the time, the OCC noted that having been alerted to the distress call, MRCC Cape Town confirmed communication with Captain Naveen Kumar Mehrotra onboard the bulk carrier M.V. Darya Gayatri, approximately 50 nautical miles Northwest of Tapio's position, diverting course at 12,5 knots and rendering assistance with an ETA (estimated time of arrival) between 0830 and 1000 UTC on 19 November, wrote Currin.

The story, told from all angles, boils down to one tiny point: the definition of the part of the role and function of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) Centre for Sea Watch & Response, incorporating the MRCC, located on a hilly and partially tree-lined landscape East of Cape Town, overlooking both parts of the Indian Ocean to the Southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the Southwest, with Table Mountain neatly settled in the middle.

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This article has been provided by the courtesy of the Ocean Cruising Club.

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