SAMSA releases bulker involved in throwing stowaways overboard from detainment

The Panama-flagged bulk carrier Top Grace, which was detained in South Africa last month after it was found that its crew threw overboard two stowaways has been released, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

The captain and the crew of the ship have pleaded guilty before the Durban Magistrates Court to the attempted murder of two stowaways in late March.

The court sentenced the captain to a total of 5 years and three months of prison or R 160,000 fine ($ 8.449) for the attempt of murder and failing to report stowaways. The sentence was suspended for five years under the condition that he is not convicted of the same offense during the suspension.

Each of the six crew members, all of the Chinese nationality, were fined R50,000 ($2,640) and have paid their fines.

The release of the vessel in Richards Bay on Thursday after SAMSA’s investigation found that any further detainment of the ship would be unwarranted except for the payment of a detention fine.

“The fine was paid on 23rd April and the detention of the vessel immediately lifted,” said SAMSA in a statement.

The two stowaways had boarded the vessel while it was berthed at Maydon Wharf in Durban on March 23, 2020. They had climbed up the mooring ropes and hid in the bulk carrier’s chain locker.  

The two stowaways, both Tanzanians, were forced off the ship by its crew and were abandoned at sea in a make-shift raft, life jackets and some bottles of water. They spent two days at sea before washing out at Zinkwazi beach on the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Subsequent to that incident at sea, the vessel berthed at the Richards Bay harbour and was detained.

“After the successful conviction of the master and crew for attempted murder, who were released after payment of a fine, SAMSA was then able to proceed with its own investigation without compromising the SAPS criminal investigation.

“The investigation demonstrates that SAMSA will spare no resource in proper enforcement of its coastal state obligations and in the pursuit of its mandate of safety of life at sea, protection of the marine environment and promoting the republic’s maritime interests,” SAMSA further stated.

SAMSA warned vessels sailing through South Africa’s territorial waters that any vessels found to have transgressed the national laws will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Improper treatment of stowaways will not be tolerated in any circumstances, the authority stressed.