My mom texted me yesterday telling me about a boat that sank the day before. Thankfully the crew was saved but the boat was lost.
Being married to a fisherman this is not something one likes to hear. Especially since we’ve been through one boat that sank causing a massive loss of life and one that ran aground as we were watching. The second accident was in the Harbour entrance so fortunately no lives lost. But the trauma of watching this happen stays forever, take my word for it.
My mother’s text took me back 16 years. The Xman was barely three months old and the girl-child two and a bit. We’ve just relocated to Lüderitz in Namibië. A one horse town of note. A quaint little town but basic at best.
At that point in time I was still sporadically accompanying hubby to sea once or twice a year. Having little kids and working in the fishing industry this was often our only ‘alone’ time.. Yes.. On a fishing vessel surrounded by his crew of 20 or more.. 😂 I kid you not.
It was fun times, actually a trip on the boat was to me; mom of two little kids, a mini holiday. I did not have to cook, clean, do laundry, look after the kids. For whole eight days I could sleep, read, watch DVDs, chat to hubby to my hearts content or sit outside watching the ocean. Almost like a cruise.. 😁
That changed drastically after my last trip with him. I joined him on one final trip in May 2002. I was supposed to accompany him the following trip but because it was my birthday I went a week early. Leaving the kids with their gran and driving the roughly 1300 kilometers from the West Coast to Lüderitz all excited about my mini break with hubby.
This trip turned out to be short of disastrous. Hubby had a lot of stress and the boat was niggly. I felt scared for the first time ever that I was out at sea with him. I blamed it on being worried about the kids but my mother in law was adament that they were fine. This was after all not their first stay with gran. However as the trip came to an end I was ever so relieved to get of that boat and head back to Cape Town after spending another day or two with hubby onshore.
It would seem my relief was premature. I reached my parents in the early hours of that Thursday morning. The Friday I spent in town finalizing some personal affairs as I wasn’t planning on staying on with the parents as I wanted to return to Lüderitz to my own place.
Here is where the saying. Man plans and God laughs come into play. I completed my errands and dropped in at the in laws to say hi and collect the kiddos after which I returned to my parent’s home.
Right through the day I was in contact with hubby whom were completing some work on the boat before leaving for a trip again that evening. He phoned me one final time with the cell signal breaking up so bad I could barely hear him. He called me back from the boat telling me goodbye and that he loved me. That was around five in the afternoon which made it 19h00 in Namibia. It was the last time we spoke that day.
Half an hour later their vessel ran into trouble. I was unaware. They caught a rope in the propeller, the weather was bad. The boat turned into the swell and the waves crashed over the side entering the engine room. I was cooking supper.
I can only tell you a second hand version but I know it was bad. Chaos ensued. Crew jumping overboard, some with no life jackets. Hubby calling a MAYDAY; giving them their exact location. I heard the tapes and it broke my HEART. Hearing the fear in his voice. I was at home with the family and he was in danger.
According to the MAYDAY and the records of last radio contact the whole ordeal lasted no more than 5 minutes. I can assure you, to that crew it must have felt like 5 years. The boat went under. Hubby with it. As the captain he was the last one to leave. His saving grace; HE could swim.
A friend phoned me and said there was a news report about a fishing trawler that sank outside of Lüderitz. I wasn’t worried. He was on a long line vessel not a trawler. Yes there is a difference.
More people phoned and texted. I assured them all was fine. I was wrong. At 9 that evening his boss phoned me. They couldn’t find my numbers. A panicked secretary mislaid it. Turned out they phoned every De Kock family in our area reaching my in-laws and me through them. It was true. The boat had gone down. They didn’t have a list of survivors yet. They didn’t know whether J was safe.
In complete denial; I thanked him for his call telling him that I needed to finish cooking supper. I turned around told my parents assuring them everything is OK. My dad broke down.
I went on autopilot. Phoned the in-laws and broke the news. Started packing but my parents took my keys as I’ve only arrived 18 hours ago and they weren’t convinced I was in a state to drive another 12 hours with the kids in tow. They were probably right. Although at that moment I was mad as hell. I wanted to get in my car and get to hubby as fast as I can.
The phone was ringing off the hook. People were texting. We were scouring the TV channels looking for more news. At eleven that evening a good friend who’s a commercial diver came through with the list of names of the survivors. Hubby’s was at the top.
They did not let me speak to him for hours. Only in the early hours of the Saturday morning I got hold of him on his way to finally get checked out at the hospital after helping to search for surviors for hours. By this time I was losing my shit big time. Reality kicked in.
I packed my car and my kids and prepared for the trip back the next morning. Not that I slept. The in-laws agreed to accompany me on my trip as we didn’t know what awaited us.
Hubby lost 19 crew members that night. Not through anything he did wrong. Not that it matters. He was bound to blame himself. He’s that guy. These people were almost more his family than us. He spends more hours with his crew than with his family.
For him they weren’t only crew. That night he watched helpless as they got caught up in the debris of the sinking boat.
They were failed by the Namibian port authorities who refused locals with small vessels to assist in the rescue operations, rather calling on a similar fishing vessel to approach.
It took that boat one hour and ten minutes to reach the scene. It was too late. Most of the guys either drowned or died from hypothermia within 20 minutes of entering the water according to the doctor that testified at the Marine Court hearing. That hearing lasted three years. Hubby was exempted from any wrongdoing and it was noted how he did everything by the book trying to save his people. Beyond the call of duty.
I can say in retrospect that our family was traumatized greatly by this event. My kids still don’t like the beach much nor do they like swimming in the sea. I can’t blame them. They nearly lost their father to the oceans.
I attempted one more trip with hubby in 2006 but that was probably my last. I wasn’t scared but I could feel that I’ve lost my joy in being on the boat.
Laws have been changed by this accident. It was the worst accident in Namibian history for more than a century. My heart still breaks thinking of the lives lost due to the negligence of another company’s vessel leaving their ropes drifting unmarked.
So whenever I hear about another boat sinking I say a prayer. I could have been on that boat but due to divine intervention I wasn’t. I could have been widowed at the young age of 26 with two young children, but. I wasn’t. I’m not stressed about hubby still working at sea as I’ve been out with him. I know what happened that night of the 7th of June 2002 was a freak accident.
And accidents happen. Whether it’s a boat sinking, a car crash or being run over by a bus. It’s life. Whether we want to hear it or not. So today I’ll just give some thought to those guys that didn’t come back and think of their families. I’ll also say a prayer of thanks for the safe return of the crew from this last accident. ❤️