Eighty-two people were evacuated from a restaurant barge on the Hartbeespoort Dam after being trapped in hyacinth on Saturday. Rescuers from Hartbeespoort NSRI spent over three hours getting everyone to safety during a mass casualty evacuation.
The Alba cruise barge’s motors failed 30 minutes into the cruise shortly before 14:00 when the propellers got entangled in an old mattress and entangled fishing nets submerged in the water. “We requested immediate assistance from Hartbeespoort NSRI. No one was in danger but people’s safety was a priority and we had to get them off the boat immediately,” said Deon Mostert, owner of Harties Boat Company. According to Arthur Crew, NSRI Hartbeespoort Dam station commander, the NSRI and the SRU (Strategic Rescue Unit) received a call for help from The Alba barge around 15:00 and the NRSI and rescue boats of SRU (Strategic Rescue Unit) responded immediately. “The cruise barge was trapped by 1.2 to 1.4 meter high hyacinth that surrounded the barge in natural drift while they were repairing the motors. NSRI Hartbeespoort Dam duty crew were activated to assist in a mass casualty evacuation of passengers from the barge. Hyacinth surrounding the barge prevented a simple tow to shore,” he said. Using the NSRI rescue craft and the SRU rescue craft, in 9 relays, all 72 passengers and 10 crew were transferred onto the rescue craft and safely evacuated to shore. Crewe said the hyacinths hampered the two rescue boats and the rescue operation, causing slow progress. “There were no injuries and everyone involved maintained high spirits throughout the operation. The operation was completed at 17:30.” “The high level of safety performed by the barge captain and his nine crew members, who followed safety measures by the book, was noted and is highly commendable. The barge captain and his nine crew members had ensured all 72 passengers were secured in life jackets, were well hydrated and briefed on procedures to follow. Before launching, passengers had been briefed on emergency procedures by the captain and his crew who regularly receive NSRI safety training and NSRI safety advice.” Crewe said it was initially decided to recover the barge only on Sunday, but about an hour after the completion of the evacuation, the dense hyacinth surrounding the boat separated sufficiently to allow the SRU craft to tow the barge, negotiating the dense hyacinth, safely to shore without incident. Mostert said the passengers remained in high spirits throughout the evacuation. “We have offered them another complementary cruise. The hyacinth situation has to be dealt with. It is seriously impacting tourism. When tourism goes, it is the end for Hartbeespoort.”