Sea Harvest sunken vessel: What we know so far about the 11 missing seamen and why the search was called off

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy addresses the media. Department spokesperson Peter Mbelengwa is also pictured. Picture: Supplied

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy addresses the media. Department spokesperson Peter Mbelengwa is also pictured. Picture: Supplied

Published May 23, 2024


The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy said they have not had a disaster of this magnitude in recent years, referring to the 11 seamen presumed drowned after their boat sank off Hout Bay on May 17.

Addressing the media on Wednesday at Sea Harvest’s offices at Table Bay Harbour, Creecy said she would share the little that is known about the accident, where Sea Harvest’s FV Lepanto sank within minutes.

“Essentially what we know is already in the public domain; that there were three vessels fishing together roughly 30 nautical miles off Hout Bay, one of the vessels encountered distress and the sister vessel issued the mayday call.

“The vessel that was in distress sank very quickly, there were nine crew rescued. Eleven crew are still missing, presumed to be deceased.”

Creecy said following this, an extensive search and rescue operation that took place from the time of the sinking of the vessel which was approximately at 3.30pm on May 17, 2024, until late on Sunday, May 19, 2024 when the search was formally called off.

Creecy said the search and rescue operations were conducted by the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and by the official rescue bodies, not something conducted by Sea Harvest itself.

She said the two sister vessels and other vessels were immediately involved in searching which involved about 200 crew.

Creecy said in this kind of situation, a proper investigation would be conducted.

She said SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) is in charge and will take oral evidence from the survivors.

She said the history and maintenance of the vessel will form part of the investigation.

The survivors

Creecy said she did meet four of the survivors, including the only officer who survived and the crew member who was responsible for deploying the rescue craft that saved the nine.

“Survivors are still in a state of shock and obviously they themselves are meeting to support each other,” she said.

Creecy said they have been offered counselling.

“I then met with some of the families of the seamen that are missing, not all.

“For the families, the situation is very painful and very raw.

“To be facing a situation of loss is terrible, but to be facing a situation of loss where there is no confirmation of a deceased, in terms of a body. It’s an enormously difficult situation.

“Families shared with me their feelings of despair, the difficulty they had in explaining what has happened, to their children, and just the pain they are feeling.”

What happens next?

Sea Harvest is going to be getting a hall where all family members can meet together, Creecy said.

“There have been meetings where families have been briefed in separate groups.

“But on Friday, Samsa will explain the search and rescue and terms and conditions and Sea Harvest will share what is known to all the families.”

In terms of compensation, Creecy said all crewmen were formally employed.

“They were covered by insurance and also by provident fund, but there are also mechanisms that families are adequately provided for.

She said Sea Harvest is taking legal advice on the issue of the status of presumed missing to a permanent determination, and “how that process can be most appropriately handled in the interest of the families”.

“They will get a salary on 25th and an advance made. Further processes will be guided by legal processes.”

Why the search was called off?

Creecy said it is only possible to sent a diver down about 80-100 metres to physically retrieve the bodies; at 350 metres, it was not possible to send a diver in at that depth.

“That is the difficult logistical situation that exists at the moment.”

When asked if there was anything wrong with the vessel, Creecy said she doesn’t know at this stage and that this would form part of the investigation.

A tragedy

Having being minister of fisheries for five years, Creecy said they have dealt with sea incidents, “but we haven’t had a major disaster of this nature.”

“When there is major loss like this, indeed, in retrospect one can say that there is a better way one could have been handled.”


Creecy said it was normal or natural when you face a loss of this nature, you will have many questions and even if you have the technical answer, you want to understand but why.

“To deal with a bereavement in a situation where you may have to accept that the last resting place of your loved one is at sea, is a particularly difficult form of bereavement to come to terms with.

“It was a very emotional experience talking to these families.

“The sadness, the despair it was very painful.”

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