Crew Abandons Listing Cargo Ship as Storms Hit Shipping Off South Africa

listing cargo ship
Rescue vessels found the cargo ship listing and the crew in the life raft (SAMSA)

Published Jul 9, 2024 11:53 AM by The Maritime Executive


The crew of a Panama-registered general cargo ship abandoned their vessel early on Monday after it took on a severe list in heavy weather off the South African coast. The region is being impacted by a series of strong cold fronts causing widespread damage and raising concerns as vessels continue to reroute around the African cape.

The South Africa Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) received a signal at 0300 local time from an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) which was determined to be coming from the cargo ship Ultra Galaxy (13,800 dwt). The ship which is 408 feet (124.5 meters) in length was approximately 60 nautical miles west of Doring Bay on the west coast of South Africa north of Cape Town.

Vessels that were in the region were diverted to provide assistance. The bulk carrier Fivos (56,700 dwt) and the containership Rio Grande Express (50,800 dwt) both responded to the call along with the fishing vessel Malachite. According to SAMSA, weather conditions included a 12-knot wind and seas running 16 to 20 feet.


SAMSA provided photos of the Ultra Galaxy on Monday after the crew abandoned ship


Arriving at the location, they found the crew of 18 Filipino seafarers had entered the life raft as the cargo ship was listing precariously. The Japanese-owned vessel which was built in 2008 was sailing from Malaga, Spain, and was rounding the Cape bound for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The FV Malachite was able to rescue the crew and transfer them to St. Helena Bay.

SAMSA dispatched two rescue tugs which were expected to research the area later on Tuesday, July 9 to attempt a tow the vessel. SAMSA reports it currently does not know the nature of the cargo aboard. Late on Tuesday they reported that the vessel was drifting toward the coastline and was being monitored while additional resources were being dispatched for a salvage operation.

On Sunday, July 7, Cape Town and the Western Cape region were hit by a fierce winter storm with the weather service warning of a series of cold fronts moving across the region. There were heavy winds, rain, and snow in parts of the country which resulted in downed trees, flooding, and power outages. As many as 4,000 people were reported to be homeless after the storms in the Cape Town region while residents were being warned to prepare for additional storms.

Port operator Transnet reported Tuesday night that it had suspended container operation at two of its terminals on Sunday night as Cape Town, Saldanha, Port Elizabeth and Ngqura were all experiencing heavy weather including winds between 35 and 50 knots and seas up to 11 feet. Ship movements they reported are being suspended at some ports for safety reasons with one vessel windbound at the Port Elizabeth terminal. They were hoping to resume operations on Wednesday but noted that heavy rains have also slowed loading of cargo.

Shipping industry observers had raised concerns about the conditions ships would encounter at what is now the height of the winter season in South Africa. With most shipping diverting from the Red Sea, they will be exposed to the harsh winter conditions while sailing the Cape of Good Hope routing. Many of the diverted ships are also seeking to bunker in South Africa.

Maersk on Monday issued an extreme weather warning for the South African Coast. They highlighted that vessels are expected to seek shelter/alter course to avoid the weather which would have its worst impact in the region near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape region. They cautioned that strong winds, high waves, and heavy rain are forecasted over the next few days, especially between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and would impact vessel movement and operations.