'Starving' South African sailors stuck in Angola

05 April 2015 - 13:38 By MONICA LAGANPARSAD

Members of a South African crew stranded off the coast of Angola are facing starvation.

The fishing vessel, the Bluegate, along with seven crew members - five South Africans, a Kenyan and a Ghanaian- docked in Lobito Bay, in the south of Angola, but they have been living off rainwater and maize meal for about three weeks.

The daughter of captain Angus Gilbert, 68, raised the alarm on Thursday after she was told her father had suffered a mild stroke.

Olivia Gilbert from Cape Town said she received a distress call from the ship's mate on Thursday.

Yesterday, the chief engineer on board the vessel, Ebrahim Mohamed Abdul, speaking from Lobito Bay, said morale was low and the crew was facing starvation.

"We were hired to transport the fishing vessel on March 2," he said.

Upon departure, the crew told a representative of the ship's owner that the fuel and provisions on board would not last for the 21-day journey. But they were told to make do.

"About a week into the trip we were low on fuel but the owner refused to give us permission to refuel in Namibia," said Abdul.

The Nigerian owner of the vessel instructed the crew to go directly to Lagos, but with fuel running extremely low the Bluegate continued up the west coast into Angolan waters instead.

"When we got into Angola we had to wait outside the harbour because we were trying to get permission to dock," he said.

Abdul, a Durban resident, said they eventually forced their way into the bay and received permission to dock.

Initially, the ship's owner sent word that he would send fuel with a Congolese vessel, but the arrangement turned out to be too expensive. The owner then roped in an Angolan agent to facilitate arrangements for docking fees and fuel.

But a mix-up between the vessel's owner and the shipping agent resulted in dock fees not being paid. The ship was then taken into custody by Angolan authorities, Abdul said.

The Nigerian owner insists he paid the agent for docking fees but the Angolan agent claims he never received payment.

Abdul said: "Immigration took all our passports ... we are running out of provisions.

"I have some money on me which I use to pay immigration so I can leave to visit the captain in hospital.

"The captain is talking but he struggles to feed himself. The nurses just leave his food and I have to go twice a day to feed him. We need help. The crew is not coping. Some are crying like babies. We have to get out of here."

Abdul said the crew were boiling rainwater to drink and eating maize meal.

Olivia Gilbert said her father was diabetic and suffered from hypertension.

"He had a stroke on Thursday and only regained consciousness on Friday.

"The Angolan authorities are refusing to help them. They only took my father to hospital on Friday," she said.

Gilbert said she was in touch with a South African official based in Angola, who was trying to help her family.

Yesterday Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said the South African government would urge the Angolan authorities to assist the crew to return home.

"It's not their fault that ship owners won't pay. We will engage with them to allow them to return to South Africa," he said.

Abdul said he hoped the South African government would intervene.

He said they began running out of supplies about 10 days ago. Although the Angolans had promised to help them with food and fuel, this was yet to happen.

"Every day, they say tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes," Abdul said.