The MFV Geo-Searcher replaced the MFV Edinburgh as Tristan's main fishing vessel in 2017, but was wrecked of Gough in October 2020.

First Picture of the Sinking MFV Geo Searcher

News from the South African Marine Safety Authority (SAMSA) and the LUSA News Agency

On 28th October 2020, the SAMSA Blog published an extensive report on the SA Agulhas II side of the rescue of the crew of the MFV Geo Searcher, which sank off Gough Island on the 15th October. The blog includes the following picture of the stricken vessel, as well as video footage of the rescue effort, and interviews with Captain Bengu of the Agulhas II and Jared Blows, Chief of the Maritime Rescure Coordinating Centre (MRCC). It also has many photos of the Geo Searcher crew disembarking at Cape Town, of which we reproduce a couple here.

Blog: https://blog.samsa.org.za/2020/10/28/relief-at-last-as-a-62-sailors-rescue-mission-deep-in-the-atlantic-ocean-succeeds-samsa/

The MFV Geo Searcher sinking off Gough Island

The MFV Geo Searcher down at the stern and listing severely as she sinks off Gough Island. Photographer unknown

More on the Evacuation

The SAMSA blogger was unable to persuade any of the crew to talk about their ordeal, but the Lusa News Agency and other Portuguese media have published additional dramatic information from one of the Portuguese survivors. Describing their escape as a 'miracle', he says that he and his fellow countrymen left the ship in the first boat. Unfortunately, this then overturned while being manoeuvered, throwing its occupants into the sea, and they were in the water for about 25 minutes before they could be hauled out. They must have been wearing survival suits (normal practice for abandoning ship when time allows) to have survived so long in the cold South Atlantic water. Fortunately, as can be seen in the photograph, the sea was calm, and the weather was good, if dull.

Disembarking the Crew at Cape Town

The SA Agulhas II arrived back in Cape Town on Monday 26th October. A few family members of the Geo Searcher's crew were able to meet them as they disembarked. We wish them all the best for the future.

Crew of the MFV Geo Searcher disembarking in Cape Town

Above and below: The crew of the Geo Searcher disembarking the SA Agulhas II in Cape Town. They carry with them bags of clothes and other contributions from the Tristan community. The Tristan hats were evidently appreciated.

Crew of the sunken MFV Geo Searcher disembarking the SA Agulhas II in Cape Town.

The Sunken Geo Searcher's Crew Returns to Cape Town

It has been reported on Twitter by the Antarctic Legacy Project, Stellenbosch University, that the SA Agulhas II arrived in Cape Town during the evening of Monday 26th October 2020 with the crew of the sunken MFV Geo Searcher.

No further details have yet been forthcoming from official sources, but a post in the Tristan da Cunha Facebook Group showed Portuguese members of the crew being met by the Portuguese Consul with emergency passports, all documents having gone down with the ship. Lost documents may also have caused difficulties for the rest of the crew as they passed through Immigration. They were also required to test negative for COVID-19 before proceeding home. We will provide more information as it emerges.

Sunset for the MFV Geo Searcher, pictured off the Settlement at Tristan da Cunha.

Sunset for the Geo Searcher, pictured off the Settlement at Tristan da Cunha in happier times. Photo: © Robin Repetto

What Next?

The return of the crew to Cape Town marks the end of an episode in the story of the wreck of the ill-fated Geo Searcher, but it is not the end of the tale. Evidence is already being gathered into the cause and consequences of the wreck, but it will be some time before the outcome or even initial conclusions can be made public.

The Agulhas II photographed and videoed the wreck site on its way from Gough Island to Tristan, and reported no pollution. This indicates that the fuel tanks have not been breached, but this is something that will have to be monitored.

It is too early to say how the wreck will impact Tristan's fishing industry and the regular shipping schedule. The fishery operated from Calshot Harbour and the factory is unaffected, and it has reported good catches in the past week. It is some compensation that most of the Geo Searcher's catch had been transshipped to the Edinburgh before the incident, for transport to Cape Town.

SA Agulhas II on the way to Tristan with Geo Searcher Survivors

Report and photos from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

The airlift of the stricken crew of the MFV Geo Searcher was completed by about 3:45pm local time on Wednesday 21st October, and the SA Agulhas II then left for Tristan. She was expected to arrive late morning on Thursday to drop off survivors Ian Lavarello and Rodney Green and pick up the clothing and goods gathered by the Tristan community for the relief of the crew.

Geo Searcher survivors airlifted to the SA Agulhas II

Survivors from the MFV Geo Searcher landing on the SA Agulhas II, having been airlifted from Gough Island

SAMSA Report, 22nd October 2020

After losing time battling inclement weather characterised by strong winds, South Africa’s research vessel, the SA Agulhas II is on its way back from the Gough Island, after successfully rescuing the crew of the vessel that sunk just a mile away from the remote Atlantic Ocean island last week.

This is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) which is coordinating the rescue and safe return of the 62 crew members who were onboard the Belize flagged research vessel, Geo Searcher, when it hit rocks and took water before it sunk to the bottom of the sea near Gough Island on Thursday last week.

Evacuated crew of the MFV Geo Searcher on the SA Agulhas II

The airlifted crew of the MFV Geo Searcher being briefed in the lecture room of the SA Agulhas II

On board the Geo Searcher at the time, were 47 South African, three (5) Portuguese, one (1) British, two (2) Ghanaian, one (1) Indonesian, four (4) Namibian and two (2) Tristan citizens,” said the updated statement.

On Wednesday, SAMSA reported the rescue crew of the SA Agulhas II hurriedly dispatched last week to fetch the seafarers off the stricken research fishing vessel as having encountered wild stormy weather on approach to the Gough Island.

"Bad weather with gale  force winds has stalled the rescue operation since Tuesday  (20 October 2020). Weather forecast for the  coming 24 hours is also not looking any better but is being closely monitored. The evacuation will commence as soon as the weather subsides.The  weather is  reported to possibly  subside  from Thursday  (22nd October 2020)," said SAMSA

On Thursday morning, SAMSA reported all as going well with the rescue mission, and that the SA Agulhas II was on its way back to South Africa.

"The SA Agulhas II is heading to Tristan da Cunha to drop the two Tristanian  survivors from where the vessel will then proceed to Cape Town.

Arrival in Cape Town will be dependent on weather conditions that may affect the sailing time. All indications are that it will take approximately 4 to 5 days before the vessel arrives in Cape Town." said SAMSA."

Source: https://blog.samsa.org.za/2020/10/22/rescued-crew-of-sunken-vessel-on-their-way-home-samsa/

Shipwrecked islanders return to Tristan

Report from Administrator Fiona Kilpatrick and Chief Islander James Glass

Rodney Green and Ian Lavarello land on Tristan

The SA Agulhas II's helicopter lands islanders Rodney and Ian (center) and Captain Clarence (right)
on Tristan after the shipwreck. Photo: Kelly Green

Today, the SA Agulhas II arrived just after 1100h at Tristan to misty rain and a fresh breeze. She stayed for some four and a half hours, as a number of protocols had to be completed. The first helicopter flight brought Rodney Green and Ian Lavarello ashore, as well Captain Clarence from the Geo Searcher.

The helicopter picked up around 120 bags of clothes and other personal items that islanders had collected for the Geo Searcher crew - not bad for an island with only 105 households. James thinks this crew will be the best dressed shipwrecked sailors ever to enter into Cape Town!

The Agulhas II continued on her way shortly after 15:00 with our thanks and best wishes for a safe return to Cape Town.

Ian and Rodney help sling the community's packages for the Geo Searcher crew.

Despite their ordeal, Rodney and Ian helped sling the community's packages for the helicopter to take to Agulhas II for the Geo Searcher's crew. Photo: James Glass

The helicopter lifts off with Tristan community's donations for Geo Searcher crew to the Agulhas II The helicopter carrying the Tristan community's donations for Geo Searcher crew to the Agulhas II
The helicopter lifts of with the community's packages for Geo Searcher crew. Photos: James Glass & Fiona Kilpatrick

The SA Agulhas II off Tristan as the helicopter delivers the islanders' donations.

The SA Agulhas II off Tristan as the helicopter delivers the islanders' gifts. Photo: Fiona Kilpatrick

The Tristan community's packages for the Geo Searche crew in St Joseph's Church.

The community's packages stacked in St Joseph's Church ready for the Geo Searcher's crew. Each bag was labelled, some with individual names, and others indicating the contents, such as 'Shoes size 10' or 'Trousers'. Photo: James Glass

MFV Geo Searcher Relief Effort on Tristan

Report and photos from Chief Islander James Glass, Lorraine Repetto and Rachel Green

On Monday 19th October 2020, parishioners from both of Tristan's churches (St Joseph's and St Mary's) came together to organise clothing, shoes and toiletries, donated by the community for the crew of the lost MFV Geo Searcher. These will be taken to the relief ship, the SA Agulhas II, when she calls at Tristan later this week to repatriate the two islanders, Rodney and Ian, before continuing back to Cape Town with the rest of the crew. We hope it will not be long until they get to return home to their families.

The Tristan community sorting donated clothing, shoes and toiletries in St Joseph's Church

Sorting donated clothing, shoes and toiletries in St Joseph's Church

Folding donated trousers in Prince Philip Hall Bagged up donations in Prince Philip Hall ready to go
Folding donated trousers in Prince Philip Hall Bagged up donations in Prince Philip Hall ready to go

Clothing bagged up ready to be delivered to the SA Agulhas II

Clothing bagged up in St Joseph's Church ready to be delivered to the SA Agulhas II

Geo Searcher Crew Airlifted from Gough Island

Update from Chief Islander Jame Glass, at 15:00 21st October 2020

The Agulhas II arrived at Gough yesterday, but the winds were too strong to fly the helicopters. The weather has since moderated slightly and this afternoon the crew of the Geo Searcher are currently being airlifted to the SA Agulhas II, hopefully by this evening they will be on their way to Tristan to drop off the two Tristan Sea Fishery Observers.

This archive photo by Chris Jones shows the SA Agulhas II off the Gough Island Met. Station in September 2019

Press Release from the South African Maritime Safety Authority

The following press release, issued this morning, gives further information about operations at Gough Island on Tuesday 20th October.

Geo Searcher - Rescue Operation Update

The SA Agulhas II arrived at Gough Island at 1240SA time on Tuesday, 20 October after departing Cape Town on 17 October 2020. The vessel is at the Island on a rescue mission to bring the crew of the Geo Searcher back to South Africa after the vessel sank late last week.

With the weather conditions unfavourable for any boat work to transfer survivors from island to vessel, it was decided that all transfers will be conducted by helicopter as it would present less risk in the prevailing weather conditions.

The first flight departed the vessel at 1315 SA Time, however it could not land and had to return back to the vessel due to strong winds gusting up to 40 knots. The operation will resume once weather conditions subsides

The current plan is to embark all 62 crew of the Geo Search on the SA Agulhas II before heading to Tristn da Cunha to drop the two Tristanian survivors from where the vessel will then proceed to Cape Town.

Arrival in Cape Town will be dependent on when the crew can be all safely embarked on the vessel along with weather conditions that may affect the sailing time. All indications are that it will take approximately 4 to 5 days before the vessel arrives in Cape Town.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/SAMaritimeSafetyAuthority/posts/3380721405330631