Search for 11 fisherman ended too early, says Food and Allied Workers Union

The SA Maritime Safety Authority has launched aninvestigation after fishing vessel MFV Lepanto sankabout 34 nautical miles offshore of Hout Bay onFriday afternoon.

The SA Maritime Safety Authority has launched aninvestigation after fishing vessel MFV Lepanto sankabout 34 nautical miles offshore of Hout Bay onFriday afternoon.

Published May 21, 2024


The fishing industry has been left reeling from the tragedy that befell 11 fishermen who are presumed drowned after MFV Lepanto, owned by Sea Harvest, reportedly sank on Friday afternoon about 34 nautical miles offshore from Hout Bay with 20 crew on board.

The incident, according to Masifundise Development Trust, is a stark reminder of the critical importance of strict safety measures and the need for continuous improvement in maritime safety protocols to ensure the lives of fishers who work at sea were protected.

South African United Fishing Front (SAUFF) chairperson Pedro Garcia welcomed investigations into the incident.

Ten of the presumed drowned crew were confirmed on Monday to be from areas within Cape Town and one from Malmesbury.

A search by the Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) which included the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) led to the recovery of two life rafts, one containing nine survivors and the other empty.

Additional vessels and aircraft were assigned part of the search but no sightings were reported.

Samsa spokesperson Tebogo Ramatjie said the search continued on Saturday which resulted in debris being spotted within the revised search area and it continued until late without any other sighting reports.

The search was called off on Sunday and the 11 missing fishers were presumed to have drowned.

“A review of the search progression, the search efforts, and the continuous lack of sighting reports from the incident’s start, and the unfavourable weather, led the Maritime Safety Authority to conclude the search and rescue effort.

“The Samsa casualty investigation team will investigate the incident to determine the cause of the sinking and ensure that all safety protocols were followed,” said Ramatjie.

Sea Harvest on Monday said according to their knowledge the search was not going to be resumed.

“The authorities have called off the search and the families have been made aware. They are understandably traumatised and the company has been engaging with them on an ongoing basis.

“Sea Harvest has provided counselling to all affected families, rescue crew and other staff who may request it.

“We would like to emphasise that keeping our staff safe at sea is our key priority.

“We are conducting our own investigation in addition to the probe by Samsa,” said the company.

The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) said they were determined to establish reasons for the search to be called “off too early”.

“The immediate thoughts of all our members throughout the fishing industry go to all of the family members who have suffered the severe loss of their loved ones for reasons they cannot fathom.

“We are fully in support of a thorough investigation being conducted by the relevant authorities to establish the cause of the vessel sinking so suddenly.

“We shall continue to closely monitor all developments and simultaneously do our level best to ensure that the rights and interests of all crew on board the vessel and their related family members are protected and taken care of by those responsible for the tragedy.”

Premier Alan Winde, accompanied by mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, visited the head offices of Sea Harvest on Monday to convey their condolences to the families of the missing fishermen and support to the survivors.

They have offered additional psychological counselling support to the fishermen and families of the presumed deceased men.

“You are all in my thoughts in this very difficult time. I feel your pain. I know this may be bitter-sweet for you as you too lost colleagues and friends, but I share in the joy you and your families are feeling that you are with us today.”

Cape Times