Fate of crew stranded in South Africa unclear

Yong Qing Fa No.666. Credit: Marine Traffic/Bhavik Naginlal Modi

Six Asian seamen face an uncertain future after their badly neglected fishing vessel was detained and quarantined by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

Apparently, desperate for bunkers, Yong Qing Fa No.666 entered South African waters without permission and anchored near Cape Town harbour on 30 November 2019. SAMSA was then called in by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry (DEFF) to investigate the suspect vessel on 2 December 2019.

The crew – four from Myanmar and two from China failed to communicate their plight with local authorities due to language difficulties, until the Taiwanese consulate in South Africa intervened almost a week later.

Pierre Schutz, a deputy principal officer at SAMSA’s western region Cape Town, said the agency scrambled to rescue the foreign seafarers to ensure their safety and general welfare while their seafaring troubles, including legal issues, were being interrogated for a possible resolution.

Schutz said because the vessel was sailing from West Africa – where Ebola, a deadly and highly contagious haemorrhagic disease, is endemic – it was placed in a 21-day offshore quarantine.

However, he revealed that 12 days after the drama began, SAMSA appealed to the TNPA, DEFF, and others to allow an inspection so that basics, such as food and water, could be supplied to the crew.

Crucially, this was also to ensure the safety of the vessel, given its unauthorised anchorage could prove hazardous to other vessels in the vicinity if left unattended for too long.

By 13 December 2019, the vessel was allocated a berth in an isolated area at the Port of Cape Town so food could be brought on board, while a variety of inspections were conducted.

It had since emerged that the six crew members and their poorly maintained vessel had been abandoned by the owner. Four of them have not been paid their wages. The vessel’s flag state could also not be established.

According to SAMSA, the two Chinese seafarers have since been charged with certain maritime legal transgressions and are due to appear in a Cape Town magistrate’s court on 27 January 2020.