Crew arrested for throwing stowaways overboard

Image of Top Grace, where the stowaways were allegedly thrown off. Credit: Marine Traffic/Rick Voice

South African authorities have arrested seven Top Grace crew members for allegedly throwing two Tanzanian stowaways overboard after sailing from the Port of Durban in late March 2020.

The stowaways told rescuers they were thrown off the Panama-flagged bulk carrier over fears that they may be infected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and were a danger to crew.

The South African Maritime Authority (SAMSA) said that once it got wind of the incident, the vessel was detained when it called at the Port of Richards Bay. The master, chief officer, third officer, chief engineer, first engineer, second engineer, and bosun were taken into police custody and charged with attempted murder before being released on bail.

“As a precautionary measure, the crew were released to the vessel to assist with watchkeeping and safety of the vessel, while the court process continues. This include ensuring that the crew do not become infected with COVID-19 while in prison as an additional safety precaution,” SAMSA said to SAS.

According to the safety authority, the two stowaways climbed the mooring ropes and hid in the chain locker when the vessel was docked at the Maydon Wharf in Durban. They were apparently trying to make their way to Europe after living in South Africa illegally for several years.

“When they were discovered hiding on the ship, they alleged that they were thrown overboard with a make-shift raft, life jackets, and some bottles of water. The Tanzanians claimed they spent two days at sea before washing up at Zinkwazi beach on the north coast of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province,” said SAMSA, which is conducting an investigation into the incident with other authorities, including the South African Police Services (SAPS). The safety authority said it has conducted its own investigation and has shared this information with SAPS to assist with their case.

SAMSA said it will continue to monitor all vessels calling at South African ports or sailing through its territorial waters to ensure that its mandate of protecting the marine environment from pollution and saving lives and property at sea.

“SAMSA implores all vessels and ship managers to act responsibly during this period of uncertainty,” the authority added.