“The portfolio committee… has called on government to consider increasing the capacity of the NSRI… by availing financial resources to the entity,” committee chair Dikeledi Magadzi said in a statement.
“Sea rescue activities speak to what the government wants to achieve through Operation Phakisa… and the risks associated. The committee is excited and will support any calls aimed at resourcing the NSRI as an entity.”
NSRI CEO Cleeve Robertson told the committee on Tuesday that South Africa was not sufficiently equipped to evacuate sick or injured people by helicopter from some 12 000 ships that pass its coastline every year.
“There is only one SA Air force pilot on the South African coastline that is licenced to land on a vessel at sea,” Robertson said.
There was also insufficient aircraft to adequately respond to such emergencies, he said.
The same could be said for dealing with a local cruise ship disaster.
“If it happened again on the Transkei coast, we don’t have the helicopters.”
He was referring to the Oceanos cruise ship that sank off the eastern coast during a storm in August 1991.
Sixteen helicopters, the majority from the SA Air Force, saved a few hundred passengers.
Robertson was addressing the committee following a letter he sent to it in July highlighting the “unacceptable risk” of medical evacuations by boat.
The NSRI’s volunteers performed around 70 such evacuations every year, but two safety incidents had highlighted the need for suitable alternatives.
On May 11 this year, a helmeted crew member on a boat alongside a ship narrowly missed hitting his head on the ship’s attached gang plank, due to swells.
In another incident, a boat was sucked under the stern of a ship into the propeller wash, crushing the superstructure.
Robertson said the SA Air Force was best placed to meet the country’s international responsibility to provide maritime rescue because of its existing footprint.
But it would have to be properly equipped with maintenance contracts and training.
Magadzi said: “An interaction with the committee on defence should happen in the future and that the committee will see how it takes this important task forward.”
Ahmed Areff and Jenna Etheridge, News24
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