The forgotten heroes of The Miroshga

The nine men who rescued tourists from the capsized Miroshga are, John Knowles, Kyle Cairns, Fabian Fry, (obscured), Reemo Raatz, Alfonso Wichman, Lincoln Theunissen, Monray Isaacs, Stachleigh van Rooyen and Denton Davids.

Five-and-a-half years after the sinking of the whale-watching charter boat The Miroshga near Duiker Island, some of the poachers who assisted in the rescue operation believe their role in the effort has been “forgotten”.

The Miroshga was returning to the harbour on October 13, 2012 when it capsized. Two people were killed, including crew member and Hout Bay resident John Roberts, who had offered his own life jacket so that someone else might be saved.
UK tourist Peter Hyett also died in the tragedy.

However, 37 tourists were rescued, thanks in large part to the efforts of nine abalone poachers who suspended their fishing to aid the stricken passengers.

These men, Alfonso Wichman, Denton Davids, Fabian Fray, John Knowles, Kyle Cairns, Lincoln Theunissen, Monray Isaacs, Reemo Raats and Stachleigh van Rooyen, received a “Director’s Thanks” from the NSRI later in 2012.

Mr Davids and Mr Wichtman recently became qualified commercial divers (class 3) thanks to the involvement of Guerrini Marine Construction (GMC) and Gordon’s Bay-based dive school Jack’s Dive Chest in the salvage operation in Hout Bay harbour (“Magnificent seven almost done salvaging,” Sentinel, February 16).

Mr Davids hopes that the other seven divers who assisted in The Miroshga rescue will receive greater recognition so that they can follow in his and Mr Wichtman’s footsteps.

On the day the vessel capsized, Hangberg resident Angelo Jospeh, who has acted as contractor for GMC, was acting as a lookout for the poachers.

“I was on the mountain, and I saw a boat had capsized in the water. I radioed to our guys on the boats to tell them what was happening. When they approached the capsized boat they saw there were bodies lying in the water,” he said.

“Immediately Alfonso told the guys that today they would not poach, as lives needed to be saved. They immediately got to work, and helped save about 90% of the people.”

Mr Davids added: “We would get them out the water and put them in our rubber duck, and then transported them to the Extravagance and the Nauticat (the first boat to come to the aid of the survivors).”

Mr Joseph said when it appeared that people had been rescued, the nine divers pointed out that there were still three passengers trapped in the hull of the boat.

However, they were unable to attend to these passengers themselves as they did not have the requisite diving mouthpieces to carry out the rescue, and the task was undertaken by SAPS divers instead.

“When everyone was rescued, our guys got a thank-you from the police, who also told them they wouldn’t pursue their illegal activities that day.”

Mr Joseph said SAPS divers received gallantry awards, yet the poachers “hardly got any recognition at all” outside the NSRI commendation.

“They got too little airtime for what they had done, and now they are still struggling to put food on the table.”
Mr Davids said: ““I think we never got the recognition because we were poachers, but I think that is wrong. The divers did a great job that day.”

Mr Davids has since left the poaching game. “I am now qualified as a commercial diver, and I would love to see the others who saved so many that day get the same opportunity I did.”

Mr Isaacs has not been as fortunate in finding legitimate work. He said he hoped the events of 2012 would be remembered and he could pursue a legal career in the water.

“If it is possible, I would like a career as a commercial diver.”