Durban harbour was still closed on Wednesday morning with authorities having spent Tuesday night refloating five vessels that were pushed aground, while emergency services were still on alert after a massive storm that killed at least six people.
“[Emergency Medical Services] are still on high alert because rivers are swollen and informal structures were badly damaged”, EMS spokesperson Robert McKenzie said of the storm on Tuesday.
Two people died in the heavy downpour when a wall collapsed at the Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in Umlazi, one person died in the Durban CBD, another was killed when a container fell onto a car and a child drowned while trying to cross a stream in a town about 40km inland from Port Shepstone.
McKenzie praised emergency workers as “heroes” who did everything they could to help communities.
In the meantime, the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) said it spent Tuesday night and Wednesday morning refloating ships in distress.
“I have not seen anything like it,” Samsa chief operating officer, Sobantu Tilayi, told News24.
The MSC Innes, MS New York, Bow Triumph, the SA Shipyard floating dock and the new harbour tug were pushed onto sandbanks.
The MSC Susanna and Maritime Newanda broke their moorings and had to be held by harbour tugs to prevent them from also running aground, according to an earlier statement issued by Samsa.
Bigger ships prioritised for rescue
In a statement, Tilayi said the safety authority’s principal officer in Durban, Captain Hopewell Mkhize and Durban harbour master, Captain Alex Miya, formed a joint operations committee with the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) to help vessels that had run aground.
“We prioritised the bigger ships because of the pollution risk,” he said.
According to the statement, it took five tugboats to refloat the 330m long MSC Innes, which was blocking the harbour entrance. It has gone in to port for damage inspection.
Bow Triumph, a 183m long product tanker berthed in Island View, broke its moorings and ran aground on the sand bank near the Island View Terminal. It was refloated at 16:30. The work of clearing the anchors which were stuck was also done.
The MS New York, a 330m long container vessel, which ran aground near Maydon Wharf was also refloated successfully and was allocated a berth for damage inspection.
By 19:00 on Tuesday, MSC Susanna, which had earlier broken away from its mooring ropes, was secured.
The Maritime Newanda vessel which broke loose was held by tugs and is currently berthed at Maydon Wharf.
The SA Shipyards’ floating dock and new tug would be refloated on Wednesday after also running aground.
A straddle carrier which was blown into the water remains unsecured, some cranes were reportedly derailed by strong winds and there were reportedly three containers lost in the water.
These pose a danger to navigation within the vicinity, so the port will remain closed and a search will be conducted on Wednesday.
He said operations at the terminals would only be re-opened when it was declared safe because even heavy container loading equipment had been blown into the water.
There were no injuries and no pollution reported on all the shipping incidents.
“We are pleased with the overall cooperation from all stakeholders and the swift action to ensure the safety of people and equipment,” said Tilayi.
“More importantly is the demonstration of emergency preparedness that was displayed during this major incident. It is the first time that we have had to attend to this number of casualties simultaneously.
“We are pleased by the reaction of TNPA and their handling of the incident. We are increasingly getting confronted with deteriorating weather patterns and can expect similar incidents in the future given the effects of climate change.”
He said it was a “saving grace” that it happened in the harbour where all their resources are situated.
Meanwhile, the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) expressed condolences to the bereaved families and expressed concern about people living in rural areas.
The organisation appealed to communities to work with authorities who want them to move to higher areas.
“While we are mindful that some rural communities might eventually be cut off due to flooding bridges, we therefore wish to make a passionate plea to people living in low-lying areas and alongside rivers to cooperate with emergency and law enforcement agencies, and move to higher areas to avoid flooding,” Sanco spokesperson Jabu Mahlangu said.
Mahlangu said parents should keep an eye out for children who might be tempted to cross rivers or swim in them, and urged motorists to drive carefully.
By Jenni Evans