Freighter Expedition rescues crew from catamaran hit by whale

The CMA CGM ROSSINI, which is now currently one of the vessels on the 33 day trip to Singapore, rescued two after a catamaran collided with a whale


Recently a wreckage was found washed up on the beach at Turk’s Cap. The Sea Rescue took a boat out to investigate. The sea conditions meant only their drone could get close to it and photos were taken using the drone. Marco Yon and Paul Cherett of Emergency Planning and Sea Rescue walked the beach and confirmed the wreckage was part of a catamaran, maybe from South Africa. The South African Maritime Safety Authority were notified. It was Bruce Salt who put the Turk’s Cap mystery to his old friend and fellow Amateur Radio Operator John Titterton. John is a veteran yacht delivery skipper and well informed about such matters. He was soon correcting reports in the overseas media that The Turk’s Cap wreck was a yacht lost in the Indian Ocean together with three crew. John was certain of this because the construction detail revealed in the photos of the Turk’s Cap wreck did not fit the type of catamaran (Leopard 44) referred to in the media reports. Incorrect reports did not help in the yacht identity search.


 “Wreckage of what appears to be a South African-built catamaran has washed ashore on St Helena Island, prompting speculation that it may be the Tui Marine vessel lost in a storm in 2015.  A Tui Marine catamaran disappeared in stormy weather under delivery from Cape Town to its charter firm in Thailand with three South African crew. The last communication from the boat was 2190 nautical miles northwest of Perth. No survivors have been found although the hull was recovered briefly before being lost while under tow back to Cape Town.”


After searches of records of yachts lost at sea from the North Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, followed by discussions with naval architects and designers in different parts of the world, John Titterton was reasonably sure the yacht was built in France because of some of the construction methods used. John explained in an email to Bruce Salt, “There are two catamarans that were abandoned off the South African east coast over the past few years, besides the R&C Leopard 44. One is a 51 foot quite narrow catamaran, that also had red antifouling, and was French flagged and most likely of French build. It was called LLAMA LO and was abandoned off East London on 17 October 2015 after hitting a whale. The other one was the 40 foot catamaran "Gulliver", which capsized off Cape Infanta on 15 June 2011. This one also, apparently, had red anti-fouling.” The hull of the Turk’s Cap wreck is white with red anti-fouling paint. The length of the 51 foot catamaran matches the Turk’s Cap wreck and is identified as a Switch 51 which is a French build. After tracing the identity of the wrecked yacht, the story of the incident where a yacht hit a whale and capsized can also be traced. The yacht LLAMA LO was abandoned by the two man crew off East London on 17th October 2015. Hervé Lepage, master of the 277-meter (910 foot) French registered container carrier CMA CGM ROSSINI, and the ships' chief engineer, Lyes Lassel, told the harrowing story of their search for Jean Sitruk, 65, and Kyle Castelyn, 20, after their capsized catamaran LLAMA LO was found 50 miles off the Wild Coast, on South Africa's south eastern shores. The Maritime Executive reported their story in April 2016, six months after the incident.


Jean Sitruk, from Lyon, France, and his crewman Kyle Castelyn, from Strand, Cape Town, were on passage from the Maldives. The yacht was on autopilot, making 12-13 knots in rough seas. Both men were down below when, with a loud bang, the yacht momentarily stopped and then swung hard to port. Rushing up on deck Kyle saw a whale on their port side. Water was flooding into the hull through a 70cm (28 inch) hole. The boat was going to capsize. With a hole that big there was nothing that the two sailors could do to prevent it. Kyle threw the life raft overboard, then dashed below to grab emergency supplies, and Jean grabbed the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). Kyle transmitted the VHF call that every seafarer dreads: “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, this is the yacht LLAMA LO …” The catamaran was listing heavily to port as the two men came back on deck, only to see that the life raft was floating more than 200 meters (650 foot) away. Their only chance now was a small inflatable boat, the yacht's tender. Kyle tried to start the tender to go to the life raft but the engine wouldn't fire. They pushed away from the yacht and watched as she slowly rolled over. It was just after 6pm. As darkness descended on the Indian Ocean the two men drifted away from the capsized catamaran and switched their EPIRB on. Sea conditions were deteriorating. A wind of 50 knots was battering the two men as the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre at Gris Nez, far away on the north coast of France, received their emergency beacon signal.


Gris Nez alerted the South African MRCC, and a huge rescue effort began. Five ships in the area were diverted to the position; and the East London Sea Rescue volunteers and a military Oryx helicopter launched in the morning. Through the night Kyle and Jean took turns to paddle the little rubber boat, trying to keep her head into the sea. Huge six to seven meter (23 foot) swells, sometimes crumbling at the top, threatened to turn them over. In the distance they could see the lights of the ships looking for them. Kyle ignited a handheld flare without response, and they decided to keep the remaining flares until the ships were closer. As the sun rose on a seemingly empty ocean, a wave, bigger than the rest, flipped the little boat, dumping the men into the sea. Kyle had tethered his rucksack to the dinghy and as soon as they had scrambled onto the upturned hull he pulled it up. Inside was six days' supply of fresh water. The gear not tied to the boat, including their flares, was gone. “I saw my packet of Future Life Cereal floating past and grabbed it so at least we would have that to eat,” says Kyle. Two hours later another wave flipped the tender again, and the men scrambled back into the boat. On the horizon they could see ships. But by now they had drifted far from Llama Lo, and the first ships to arrive at the wreck reported that there was no sign of life aboard. Soon after that the empty life raft was found. Nearing the search area was the huge French container carrier The CMA CGM ROSSINI. 


At sunrise the duty officer called Captain Lepage to the bridge. The ship had been alerted by the French MRCC to the distress signal. By a strange twist of fate the Captain had done his military service at Gris Nez in 1988, and he is also a volunteer with the French Sea Rescue Service, SNSM, in his home town of La Rochelle. “At 12h15 we called Port Elizabeth Radio and told them that we were getting close to the position,” says Hervé. He knew that there were already five ships in the area. One had found the capsized cat, another the empty life raft. But none had followed the EPIRB position which was drifting down the coast. “I contacted my company and the MRCC and suggested that we chase the EPIRB.” At 16h15 the Rossini glided up alongside the wreck. “It was close to my starboard bow and we gave a blast on the horn thinking that they might be inside. There was no response. No sign.”Hervé gave the order to increase power, and considered the EPIRB positions. Although there was a two-hour time delay, they formed a straight line, drifting away from the life raft. “We had six pairs of binoculars on the bridge,” says Hervé, “So I called six men up and divided the area to search into sectors. Each man must concentrate only on his sector.”Then came the skew ball. The MRCC gave the next EPIRB position away off to the left of where it should be. With darkness approaching this required calm thinking and some careful calculations. Captain Lepage gave the order to turn to port. Although he believed that the position was wrong, he had worked out that they would have enough time to check and then, if need be, to loop around and sail back up the drift line that they had been searching. It was a call that needed to be made by instinct. At 17h50 he gave the command: “Turn to starboard now.” The Rossini's bow came around and Hervé lined her up on track in the opposite direction, before the wild goose chase off the drift line. “The picture that was in my mind was of them in the water with immersion suits on, the EPIRB in their hands.” He called for an increase of speed, knowing that if they did not find the two yachtsmen before dark their chances of survival would not be good. 


“There.” The call was from the Chief Engineer, Lyes Lassel, who was scanning a sector to port. He had seen a single flash of orange. Binoculars swung and, clearly now, the men on the bridge saw two orange specks – the collars of the life jackets that Kyle and Jean were wearing. The great ship slowed down and turned towards them. Kyle and Jean had been watching the container carrier for a couple of hours, slowly paddling towards it. “And then they gave three blasts on their horn,” said Kyle, “And then we knew …” His voice trails off and he looks down at the floor. It was 15 minutes before sunset. And one of the biggest challenges for Captain Lepage and his crew lay ahead: how to get the huge ship alongside the tiny rubber boat and then get the two men up the steel wall of the ship's side? “I used the wind and the currents,” says Hervé. With great skill he sailed the Rossini up to the little yacht tender, leaving Kyle and Jean only a few meters to paddle to the side of the ship. Despite his exhaustion, youth was on Kyle's side. He was up the ship's ladder in a flash. But Jean, knowing now that Kyle was safe, had no energy left. As he started the nine meter (30 foot) climb up the rope ladder his hands slipped and he crashed into the sea, losing his lifejacket. The Chief Officer, Sadi Resdedant, rushed out onto the ladder to help, dropping a helicopter strop on a rope and shouting encouragement to the exhausted sailor. Against the odds, the Rossini's crew managed to get the elderly skipper on board. “I thought that we would lose him,” says Hervé. “But we did not.” 


In November 2016 Hervé Lepage, Master of the container ship CMA CGM ROSSINI was presented with a certificate and a medal in recognition of exceptional bravery when he and his ship’s company rescued the crew of the abandoned Llama Lo. Lepage was nominated by France for his tireless efforts to find and rescue, in adverse weather and sea conditions, two crew members of the capsized catamaran Lama-Lo. The survivors had been drifting in a tender for 26 hours when Lepage located them by successfully estimating the drift of the beacon transmissions – before skilfully manoeuvring the ship alongside the tender and helping the crew members on board.Captain Lepage also received the Honouring Excellence in Rescue Operations (HERO) award from the International Maritime Rescue Federation. In June 2016 the parents of Kyle Castelyn met with Captain Hervé Lepage and showed their appreciation for his exceptional efforts and skill in saving their son’s life.