Effort underway to rescue 62 seafarers stranded on South Atlantic island

A rescue effort is underway to save 62 seafarers from Gough Island in the remote South Atlantic after research vessel Geo Searcher (IMO 8028498) struck rocks and sank on October 15th. The island is approximately 250 miles southeast of Tristan da Cunha.

The South African Maritime Authority (SAMSA) has confirming the sinking of the vessel, stating that the Geo Searcher had been within a mile of Gough Island when it experienced an unspecified problem. The vessel was believed to have hit underwater rocks, causing it to take 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 took to 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 said 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. “All 62 crew have safely been recovered from the vessel and are now on Gough Island, with one crew member having sustained slight injuries”, SAMSA said.

South African research ship SA Agulhas II (IMO 9577135) is departing 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 vessel’s actual role and what it was doing in the region, almost half-way to South America, were not absolutely clear. Built in 1982 as a scientific research vessel, and still listed as such on Equasis, it was reported to have been converted in Gdansk, Poland to a factory freezer vessel, although it also had cargo and passenger capacity. It made its maiden voyage to Tristan in April 2017 and was the island’s main fishing vessel.

A company called Ovenstone, apparently the vessel’s beneficial owner, was reported to operate 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 those ships, apparently making annual trips between South Africa and the remote island, carrying passengers to the island, while also operating as a fishing vessel. It had completed its last fishing trip in mid-September.

Rescue vessel 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.

1982-built, Belize-flagged, 1,848 gt Geo Searcher is owned by Pegasus Shipping Ltd care of manager Vestland Marine SP Z OO of Gdynia, Poland. It is entered with Hydor AS, listed as a research vessel.

2012-built, South Africa-flagged, 12,897 gt SA Agulhas II is owned by South African Govt Affairs of Pretoria, South Africa. It is managed by Smit Amandla Marine Pty Ltd of Paardeneiland, South Africa. IG lists it as entered with Shipowners’ Club on behalf of African Marine Solutions Investments Pty Ltd.