‘I was trapped under the capsized boat for 7 hours. It was dark and cold and I thought I was going to die. I wanted to move but could not get up; I could not move my legs.”

These were the words of one of the crew members who were rescued when the chokka [squid] fishing vessel, the Maredon, on her maiden voyage, capsized off St. Francis Bay in the Eastern Cape on 16 July 2017.

Prior to the 1980’s squid was used as bait – but as European foodmarkets  sold it as a high priced delicacy, local fishermen started exporting squid and it is now a multi-million industry.  Go to any local restaurant and it is more expensive than many items on the menu. It can be said that these fishermen provide the tables of the nation.

Rough Sea Conditions

According to the NSRI rough sea conditions with 6 meter swells and a gusting to 50 knots westerly wind and rain prevailed, which made rescue efforts difficult. An intensive sea, air and shore search, with several search and rescue organisations participating was instituted. The NSRI and the Megalodon, one of two other chokka vessels which took part in the rescue, managed to bring a few survivors to shore.

Of the 16 crew members, seven crew members were rescued including the Captain and First Mate.  Five crew members have been missing for more than a week and four crew members were confirmed deceased.

It was during this time that Rev Boet van Schalkwyk, Principal Chaplain of the Sailors’ Society, SA and Regional Co-ordinator of the Crisis Response Network offered the services of the CRN to give trauma and grief counselling to the survivors and families of all the crew members.  It is a small community and all are known to each other. “Such tragedies have a knock-on effect for entire communities” said Rev Van Schalkwyk.

Together with the Department of Social Services

The Department of Social Services in the Eastern Cape welcomed Rev Van Schalkwyk’ response and offer to assist  and together with his team, Rev Danie Taljard from Port Elizabeth and Chaplain Steve van Schalkwyk from Cape Town, all members of the Sailors’ Society went to St Francis Bay on 23 July.

Working with the social workers, the chaplains visited the survivors and their families, as well as the families of the missing and deceased and spent much time talking, praying and counselling.

This counselling  perhaps differed somewhat from what they usually have been involved in, i.e. counselling piracy survivors. There are the bereaved, those still waiting in hope that their loved ones could miraculously be found and the survivors who suffered terrifying conditions. There are the co-workers, relatives and friends. All are on different levels of emotional trauma.

Counselled Groups and Family

Over three and a half days, the team visited those needing counselling, going to their homes. They counselled and debriefed groups and family.   It was an emotional time for Reverends Van Schalkwyk, Taljard and Chaplain Van Schalkwyk as the survivors shared their terror with them and also the sadness of the bereaved and those still waiting.  There were many tears and emotions ran high.

They also handed out beanies and T shirts which were gratefully received while Social Services arranged food parcels.

The members of the Social Services are also doing valuable work but they accompanied the team – as they said, ‘to learn’. The CRN team has to return but the social worker and Rev Taljard will now continue with supporting those counselled and those in the community. Follow ups will be done through the Captain with the rest of the crew.

Over the period, the team travelled 1685 kilometres carrying out this vital service.

13 Trained Responders

Since the establishment of the CRN, Rev Van Schalkwyk and his team, of which the full complement comprises 13 highly trained responders have been involved in many situations in South Africa and other African ports.

Not all are dramatic, but chaplains visit hundred of ships in port in a year attending to those on vessels and in hospital in need of help, prayer and just to hear a friendly and caring word – striving to bring humanity to their lives.

The Durban Port Chaplains recently held a Sea Sunday Service on 23 July where the ‘Annual Blessing of the port and all who serve therein” took place and  seafarers and others in the maritime industry were commemorated on 25 June at the Bayhead Seafarers’ Centre. Despite all the modern technology on ships, the oceans remain dangerous, especially for smaller craft. Yes, the ocean is beautiful, but at thesame time is a relentless and unforgiving element.


The Seamen’s Hymn sung at all services encompasses these dangers:


 Lord and vanguard, be Thou nigh us

On the waters where we go,

In all risks of storm and shipwreck

Fire and stranding, fog and foe”


It is for this reason and societies such as the Sailors’ Society was established. They do not have all the answers but are able to alleviate so much suffering to enable those who are touched by their caring to continue with hope.