Durban marine pilot survives fall off vessel when ladder snaps

Lufafa pilot vessel that rescued the fallen seafarer. Credit: Vessel Tracking/V.Beletsky

A 35-year-old maritime pilot plunged into the sea when a rope of his boarding ladder reportedly snapped as he was disembarking from a vessel at the Port of Durban, South Africa.

The incident occurred in the morning of 28 April 2020, as the vessel was departing the port. The reason why the rope ladder broke still needs to be determined.

The pilot vessel, Lufafa, which was waiting for him to board, then veered away from the vessel, giving him space to push away from the tanker and swim free from the ship’s draught to avoid being sucked into its propellers. Lufafa then rescued him and took him to T Jetty in the port.

Jonathan Kellerman, Durban station commander, said the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) was called in by the Transnet National Port Authority. A sea rescue craft responded with search-and-rescue teams from the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Durban Metro Police force, alongside Life Healthcare response paramedics on board.

The fallen seafarer was treated for mild hypothermia, according to Kellerman. The commander also said that as a precaution, the seafarer was sent to hospital in a stable condition by ambulance for further medical evaluation and care and is expected to fully recover.

“The immediate reaction of the skipper and crew of the pilot vessel, Lufafa, and the calm and deliberate actions taken by the casualty after he fell into the water contributed to his survival and they are commended,” he said.

The NSRI reported the vessel as being a crude oil tanker, but it has not yet been identified.