SA 'ill-equipped' for helicopter evacuations from sea

2015-09-01 14:42

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Parliament - South Africa is not sufficiently equipped to evacuate sick or injured people by helicopter from some 12 000 ships that pass its coastline every year, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport heard on Tuesday.

“There is only one SA Air force pilot on the South African coastline that is licenced to land on a vessel at sea,” National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson told the committee during a presentation.

There was also insufficient aircraft to adequately respond to such emergencies, he said.

The same could be said for dealing with a local cruise ship disaster.

“If it happened again on the Transkei coast, we don’t have the helicopters.”

He was referring to the Oceanos cruise ship that sank off the eastern coast during a storm in August 1991. Sixteen helicopters, the majority from the SA Air Force, saved a few hundred passengers.

Robertson was addressing the committee following a letter he sent to it in July highlighting the “unacceptable risk” of medical evacuations by boat.

The NSRI's volunteers performed around 70 such evacuations every year, but two safety incidents had highlighted the need for suitable alternatives.

On May 11 this year, a helmeted crew member on a boat alongside a ship narrowly missed hitting his head on the ship’s attached gang plank, due to swells.

In another incident, a boat was sucked under the stern of a ship into the propeller wash, crushing the superstructure.


Robertson said the SA Air Force was best placed to meet the country’s international responsibility to provide maritime rescue because of its existing footprint.

But it would have to be properly equipped with maintenance contracts and training.

“I think what could be done is to re-configure the fleet and re-distribute the Oryx helicopters to the coast. Inland pilots could be re-deployed to the coast and re-trained,” he said.

“I think training them up to land on sea wouldn’t be a difficult task and wouldn’t take an extraordinary amount of time.”

The “second prize” would be to have a private sector national coastal provider with two aircraft ready to fly.

Committee chair Dikeledi Magadzi said they would need to correspond with the treasury, health and defence departments.

“One life lost is one life too many… we would like to see something happening,” she said.

Read more on:    nsri  |  johannesburg  |  maritime  |  aviation

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