SA family wants Bahamas to repatriate their daughter's body immediately

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Nobuhle Bhengu died in a Bahamas hospital. (Supplied)
Nobuhle Bhengu died in a Bahamas hospital. (Supplied)

The family of Nobuhle Bhengu, who died in the Bahamas in February, is desperate to have her body repatriated to SA.

The family said they understand that the 29-year-old died in a hospital in Nassau, after being admitted there in February.

Bhengu was an MSC crew member and died in February after she became ill aboard the MSC Seaside.

Bhengu's sister Mbali told News24 how her sister's death has affected her family, and that their grandmother had been admitted to hospital, seemingly failing to deal with the fact that she may never see her granddaughter again.

"We are told that they want to cremate her, and that is really painful to hear knowing that you may never have a chance to say our last goodbyes," said Mbali.

Mbali said when her sister left for her cruise assignment in July last year, she was healthy and was given a medical fitness certificate by a doctor.

"She told me that she fell sick in January, but said they only took her to the hospital in the Bahamas on February 8, where died four days later," said Mbali.

She said the Bahamas government told her family that it cannot repatriate her body because she was infected with TB, and it feared that the virus might spread to other people during the repatriation process.

'Please bring our sister back'

"There has been no death certificate given to us, and now we ask ourselves questions as to whether there could be some foul play by the hospital, and would like to destroy some evidence by burning her body," said Mbali.

"Please bring our sister back, we loved her, and we just want her to be buried here at home," she said.

She said that one of her brothers have since gone to the Bahamas, but has not been allowed to view the body, nor has he been told when he can view it.

"We don't know if indeed it is her who died because they won't even allow our family members to view her," Mbali added.

Bengu's employer, MSC Cruises said they were "deeply saddened" by her death and express their deepest condolences to her family and friends.

"As soon as we became aware she had passed, we worked closely with the competent authorities in the Bahamas to facilitate any applicable procedures, and provided support to her family throughout the process.

"We have arranged flights for some close family members to grieve her loss and pay their respects," the company said in a statement.

"Out of respect for the deceased and her family, and to honour her medical privacy, we are unable to disclose any further details. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to our colleague's family, and our prayers are with them in this difficult time."

The SA High Commissioner in Kingston, Jamaica, Lumka Yengeni, has requested the intervention of the government of the Bahamas through its foreign ministry, to put the cremation on hold.

In a letter to them, Yengeni said: "Until a response has been received from the government of the Bahamas, you may not proceed with the cremation of the mortal remains of Bhengu".

Yengeni is requesting that Bhengu's body be permitted to be returned to her family.

The department of International Relations and Cooperation said minister Lindiwe Sisulu had been in contact with Yengeni since being notified of the incident.

"Since the unfortunate passing of Ms Bhengu, High Commissioner Yengeni has been engaging with The Bahamas authorities and other relevant parties to determine a way to meet the request of the family regarding the return of her mortal remains back to South Africa," spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said in a statement.

He said communication between Yengeni and the authorities was ongoing.

"The Minister has directed the High Commissioner to prioritise this matter and continue to engage with all relevant authorities to meet the requests of the family, noting the constraints of the health regulations of The Bahamas and all affected countries."

The National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa's secretary general Julie Mbuthuma told News24 that the family came to the union to ask for assistance, "and as of now, the government of the Bahamas does not want to come to the table".

Mbuthuma said that the organisation will do everything possible to assist the family.

*This article has been updated. 

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