Veteran skipper drowns

The NSRI and police water wing assist the capsized Troupant.

Captain Steven Lategan, 63, of Kraaifontein, died after the Troupant, the launch boat he skippered for Transnet, capsized on Saturday February 4.

Mr Lategan worked for the company for 43 years, Coen Birkenstock, Transnet’s corporate affairs manager said.

Mr Birkenstock said the Troupant had capsized while helping a Chinese fishing vessel, the Jin Yi Shiang, to berth at the Port of Table Bay. The boat was about 300m from the breakwater when the tragedy occurred, shortly before noon.

“Two crew members were saved,” Mr Birkenstock said. They were Mark Vogel and Saint Andre du Plessis.

According to the NSRI, the men, both believed to be in their 50s, were rescued by the crew of the Jin Yi Shiang, who threw life rings to them.

They were then plucked from the water by Transnet’s Blue Jay and taken to Jetty 1 at the Victoria and Alfred Basin. ER24 paramedics treated them for shock and took them to
Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital.

Mr Birkenstock said Mr Vogel had been discharged later that same day. “Mr Du Plessis is still in hospital where he is being treated for high blood pressure and pain. However, he is in a stable condition,” Mr Birkenstock said.

“The Blue Jay towed the capsized vessel into port where she was secured.”

Meanwhile, the search for the missing skipper had continued. Mr Birkenstock said Transnet’s Port Control activated the search-and-rescue operation and arranged for the NSRI Rescue 3 and police divers to assist with the search. Transnet had kept Mr Lategan’s family informed and senior executives had met with them “to show respect and empathy”, Mr Birkenstock said.

However, according to a report in the Daily Voice, Mr Lategan’s family were unhappy with the way the situation was handled.

His daughter, Adele Coetzee, told the Daily Voice that her father’s body had been found inside the boat’s engine room. Mr Birkenstock confirmed that.

Llewellyn Lategan told the Daily Voice he believed his father could have been found earlier and he questioned why authorities had not searched the Troupant sooner.

“We feel disgusted by the way Transnet has handled the situation. They had the boat since 6pm (on Saturday), but didn’t think to search it,” he said.

“We have been chased away from the scene on several occasions and were told we are hampering investigations. There is no one to answer any of my questions, the only response we’re getting is, ‘We’ll get back to you’. “I pleaded with them to look in the engine room, where they found his body, so many times. I had a private diver with me (on Saturday night) to look for my father, but the police chased us away from the scene.

“I even offered to pay for a crane out of my own pocket to lift the boat for the search to carry on and they blatantly refused.”

But according to the NSRI, the boat was searched before it was berthed. The NSRI’s Quentin Botha said Table Bay rescue swimmers had done a free dive perimeter search while NSRI rescue swimmers had been placed on the upturned hull “to hear for any feedback while knocking” but the hull had been silent. The Troupant was then berthed and secured by anchor line.

“Police divers, fire and rescue services rescue divers and EMS rescue divers were transported to the scene aboard sea rescue craft and they initiated a scuba dive search and penetrated the cabins and hull,” Mr Botha said.

Some areas of the inside of the vessel could not be reached, he said.

Mr Botha said the divers then moved the “extensive” search to where the capsizing had taken place and the surrounding areas.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) described what happened at port prior to Mr Lategan’s body being found on board.

SAMSA’s Tebogo Ramatjie said the Troupant was “left undisturbed to preserve evidence” but that night the boat sank and righted itself in the process. On Sunday February 5, Transnet hired a private diving company to refloat the Troupant. During this process, at about 2.45pm, Mr Lategan’s body was discovered on board and the police diving unit were called. By 3.30pm the vessel was refloated. “SAMSA would like to offer their sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues,” Mr Ramatjie said.

Mr Birkenstock said Transnet had offered counselling to everyone affected by the trauma.

Transnet’s CEO, Richard Vallihu, had arrived on Monday night from Johannesburg to offer support, he said.

The cause of the capsizing is still being investigated by SAMSA.