Monday, 15 October 2012

Family mourns hero of Hout Bay tragedy

Though John Roberts' family hailed the drowned sailor as a hero, the safety of the charter boat that capsized off Cape Town at the weekend, on which he was a deck-hand, is being questioned.

Roberts, 37, and Peter Phillip Hyett, 64, drowned after the charter boat, Miroshga, which was carrying 39 passengers, capsized near Duiker Island at about 3pm on Saturday.

Duiker Island is a popular whale-watching spot.

Roberts' body was hauled out of the icy Atlantic Ocean, from 21m under the water, shortly after 11am yesterday by navy divers.

Roberts is believed to have saved the life of a young passenger by giving him his life jacket.

Hennie Reid yesterday spoke of his nephew's selfless devotion to others.

"He was a people's person. He gave his life jacket to someone else and lost his life to save a life," said Reid.

Relatives gathered outside the National Sea Rescue Institute building at the harbour early yesterday after they received confirmation that his body would be brought there.

The provincial head of the SA Maritime Safety Authority, Dave Colly, yesterday said a thorough investigation into the capsizing would be launched.

"We need to see [the Miroshga] and rip it apart and see what went wrong," said Colly.

He would not be drawn on reports that Roberts gave his life jacket to a child passenger but he said that ascertaining the number of life jackets available on the Miroshga would be part of the investigation.

"It is very important to find out what sequence of events led to that situation because it need not have happened.

"There are supposed to be several levels of safety so that even if one fails you're still okay."

A tour guide website describes the Miroshgaas a custom-built catamaran that "complies with all safety regulations as per marine authorities".

According to the website, the vessel was "fitted with 42 individual high-backed chairs, and a toilet and observation/photographic platform. A qualified/registered skipper and whale specialist guide are in charge of the vessel."

A friend of Roberts, Moses Phillips, 38, said he had no doubt that Roberts would give his life jacket to a child in need.

Greg Louw, a Hout Bay community activist and part owner of Southern Ambition Marine Safaris, which owned the vessel, could not be reached yesterday.

Hyett, from Vale of Glamorgan, in Wales, was on his penultimate day in South Africa with his wife Suzanne, 63, and their daughter, Helen, when they decided to take in some whale-watching.

On Saturday, Hyett was the first confirmed casualty.

His wife was taken to Groote Schuur Hospital. She was resuscitated after being plucked from the water by the rescue divers.

Staff at Groote Schuur said that Suzanne had been discharged from the hospital shortly after midday and had returned to a Camps Bay guesthouse where the couple had been accommodated since their arrival in South Africa on October 1.

"She's absolutely stable and thankful to the people who rescued her," said a staff member at the hospital.

But she refused to speak to the media yesterday after staff from Cape Town's Disaster Management Centre took her back to the guesthouse.

City Disaster Management spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said the City of Cape Town would help arrange accommodation for the family until arrangements had been made to repatriate Hyett's body.

Two other British tourists were trapped in the hull of the boat for almost four hours. They were rescued late on Saturday night.

Both tourists, Bronwyn Armstrong and Lynette Hartmann, have been discharged from hospital.

- Times Live

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