‘Lord be with them,’ prays woman as R27k-a-night houseboat burns

The KZN tragedy has led to the deaths of a crew member and passenger, with another crew member still missing

11 October 2021 - 16:57 By GILL GIFFORD
The fire on the Shayamanzi I started at about 4.30pm on Saturday.
GUTTED The fire on the Shayamanzi I started at about 4.30pm on Saturday.
Image: Supplied

“Jesus, I don’t know if those people will come out of this alive. Lord, be with them,” a woman is heard muttering in Afrikaans, as she watches the Shayamanzi I houseboat burn on Jozini Dam.

The footage, posted on YouTube, shows the 25m-long luxury houseboat belching plumes of thick black smoke into the clear northern KwaZulu-Natal skies. The tragedy did indeed lead to the deaths of three people as it unfolded on Saturday afternoon.

Two of the deceased have been identified as crew member Michael Chilizani Phiri, 51, and German tourist Michael Mirschel, 64.

“We are not releasing the name of the other crew member who drowned until his body has been found,” said KZN police spokesperson Capt Nqobile Gwala.

Retrieval operations continued on Monday afternoon after the tragedy played out on the dam in Pongola at about 4.30pm.

Gwala said there were four crew members and five passengers on board the boat.

“All nine people jumped into the water. Six of them managed to swim to safety and the other three drowned. Two of the bodies have been recovered, but police from Empangeni are still searching for the third person,” she said.

Alex Mirschel, using the account of Robert Verbanec, posted on the Shayamanzi Facebook page: “This is Alex Mirschel, writing on the account of my good friend Robert. Our group was the one on the boat and we lost our father yesterday. We lost everything including keys, passports, cards, cash, smartphones and any clothes but will try to get Daddy’s body back to Germany. The remaining four of us were struggling in the water due to the very rough conditions but we made it.”

He continued in German: “To all friends and relatives that read about it here, the remaining four of us are doing okay under the circumstances.”

Kim Blevin, spokesperson for the long-established family business that owns the houseboat, said they were not in a position to comment further on the tragedy.

“We are devastated and are doing everything possible to understand and support the investigation and impact on our guests, crew and their families. On behalf of the Shayamanzi Team, our sincere condolences. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. We mourn with you,” she said in the only statement released by the family since the fire.

According to the Shayamanzi website, the Shayamanzi I is a 25m by 8m, double-pontoon houseboat with six luxury cabins and an eight-seater jacuzzi. According to its rate card, the “exclusive charter of Shayamanzi I for one to 12 guests” costs R27,000 a night. If meals are included it costs another R600 per person per night.

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