Robben Island – a black south-easterly gale whipped Table Bay into a frenzy today as a ferry began to sink after being battered by large swells and unforgiving gusts.

The NSRI has confirmed that all 68 passengers – four of which crew – who initially boarded the Robben Island ferry Thandi, have been accounted for. This evening the institute released the following statement:


At 14h18, Friday, 15th September, NSRI Table Bay duty crew were activated by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) following a Mayday distress call from the Robben Island passenger ferry Thandi reporting to be taking water.

The NSRI Table Bay sea rescue craft Spirit of Day and Spirit of Vodacom was launched to join the Robben Island passenger ferry Madiba 1 that were already on the scene.

NSRI Headquarters launched the sea rescue craft Spirit of Round Table, NSRI Bakoven launched the sea rescue craft Rotarian Schipper, NSRI Hout Bay launched the sea rescue craft Albie Matthews, NSRI Melkbosstrand launched the sea rescue craft Spirit of Brenda and a private boat, the Police Sea Borderline launched 2 Police craft and the TNPA Pilot boat Petrel responded.

The AMS/EMS Skymed rescue helicopter and the ASR (Air Sea Rescue) and a SAAF (SA Air Force) Oryx helicopter were activated. Skymed was later stood down and the SAAF Oryx remained on alert but was not required to respond.

Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services dive unit, WC Government Health EMS rescue and ambulance, City of Cape Town Disaster Risk Management, ER24 ambulance services and Netcare 911 ambulance services responded.

A Police Dive Unit was placed on alert.

MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) were alerted and Telkom Maritime Radio Services assisted with radio communications during the operation.

There were reported to be 68 passengers in total which included the 4 crew of the ferry.

A JOC (Joint Operations Control) was set up at the Transnet National Ports Authority Control Tower and rescue crafts were directed from the NSRI Table Bay rescue base.

On arrival at the scene, the ferry was found to be listing to one side from water intake from unknown causes and some of the passengers were found to be in life rafts and the remaining crew and passengers were on the deck of the casualty ferry.

All passengers and crew of the casualty ferry were transferred by NSRI from the casualty ferry and from life rafts onto the Madiba 1 and onto NSRI’s Spirit of Vodacom and brought to the Port of Table Bay where they were assessed by paramedics and only a few passengers were treated for mild hypothermia.

One passenger from the ferry Thandi, a female, was transported to hospital by ambulance in a stable condition suffering from back pain. One passenger from the ferry Madiba 1, a female, was transported to hospital by ambulance in a stable condition suffering from anxiety.

All passengers and crew are accounted for. As the rescue operation progressed some of the resources were stood down no longer required.

SAMSA (South African Maritime Safety Authority) are alerted and an investigation into the cause of the vessel taking water will be investigated.

Efforts are being made to recover the ferry.


Winds over 160km/h have been recorded from black south-easters over the Cape Peninsula in the past. In short, the weather system is caused by a low-pressure cut-off, and today in Cape Town we observed a textbook example of the surface low-pressure system in spring, causing fierce gusts and scattered showers this afternoon.

robben island black south easter


Photography NSRI

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