A dramatic rescue effort is underway to save 62 seafarers from a remote South Atlantic island after their vessel stuck rocks and sank on October 15. The South African Maritime Authority (SAMSA) is confirming the sinking of what they are calling a fishing research vessel, the Geo Searcher, which was lost off Gough Island. The island is approximately 250 miles southeast of Tristan da Cunha and more than 1,700 miles west of Cape Town, South Africa.
According to SAMSA, the Geo Searcher had been within a mile of Gough Island when it experienced an unspecified problem. The vessel is believed to have hit underwater rocks causing it to begin taking on water. The South African rescue station “sought to mobilize other sailing vessels within the vicinity of the accident, but this was eventually called off after the crew of the sunken vessel were reported to have safely abandoned it,” said SAMSA.
The crew abandoned their ship in the lifeboats and landed on the remote island. They reportedly made their way to a weather station on the island to await rescue. The weather station normally has a crew of six.
SAMSA is reporting that there were 47 South Africans, four Namibians, three Portuguese, two Ghanaians, two citizens of Tristan da Cunha and one each from the UK and Indonesia aboard the vessel which is registered in Belize. “All 62 crew have safely been recovered from the vessel and are now on Gough Island, with one crew member having sustained slight injuries,” according to the statement issued to the media.
SA Agulhas II which is staging the rescue – photo by Ossewa (CC4 License)
SAMSA working with other agencies and the vessel’s owner, a company named Ovenstone, arranged for the South African research ship SA Agulhas II to depart from Cape Town on a rescue mission to the remote island. SAMSA said, “The SA Agulhas II is expected to take about three days to reach the island, if weather conditions allow. The vessel is carrying two helicopters on board which will greatly assist in the transfer of the stricken seafarers from the island to the vessel. It is expected that the vessel will then make its return voyage arriving by possibly Friday or Saturday of next week.”
The Geo Searcher was reported at 1,260 DWT. The vessel was 227 feet long. There has been some confusion as to the vessel’s role and why it was operating in the region. Built in 1982 as a scientific research vessel, sources in Tristan da Cunha report that it was converted in Gdansk, Poland to a factory freezer vessel with cargo and passenger capacity. It made its maiden voyage to Tristan in April 2017 becoming the island's main fishing vessel. Ovenstone reportedly operates the Tristan da Cunha fishery, and as part of the contract with the Tristan Government, operates a regular shipping service of eight trips a year between Cape Town and Tristan da Cunha aboard three vessels. The Geo Searcher was the largest of the ships.
Still named Geo Searcher, it reportedly made annual trips between South Africa and the remote island, carrying passengers to the island and operating in the fishing business. It had completed its last fishing trip in mid-September.
The SA Agulhas II, built in 2012 as a polar supply and research vessel, regularly sails in the area. The 440-foot vessel operates annual cargo and passenger trip to Tristan da Cunha and also visits Gough Island as part of a lease arrangement with the South African Government to relieve the personnel at the weather station.