Update on the investigation of the detained MV Top Grace vessel
April 24, 2020
Richards Bay, South Africa: The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) detained the MV Top Grace from 17 April 2020 – 23 April 2020 in Richards Bay in order to conduct an investigation into circumstances surrounding two foreign national stowaways being forced off the vessel approximately three nautical miles off the coast of South Africa.
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 South African Police criminal investigation.
The vessel was detained by SAMSA in terms of section 9(3) of the Marine Traffic Act for breaking innocent passage and causing prejudice to the peace, good order and / or security of the Republic. (Innocent passage is a concept in the law of the sea that allows for a vessel to pass through the territorial waters of another state, subject to certain conditions.)
The Authority appointed shipping lawyers from Bowmans to assist SAMSA’s surveyors with the investigation and ensure a speedy conclusion. Under the Marine Traffic Act, SAMSA had 7 days following the detention within which to complete the investigation. A high tech investigation was conducted using sophisticated methods of data retrieval and analysis (including retrieval of deleted items) and a team of 5 interpreters was employed to work around the clock to interpret Mandarin texts into English.
"Following a thorough assessment of the findings of the investigation SAMSA concluded that any further action against the vessel would not be warranted, save for the payment of a detention fine. The fine was paid on 23rd April and the detention of the vessel immediately lifted," read the statement issued by SAMSA.
"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. It is noted that in appropriate circumstances, vessels that commit crimes may be forfeited to the state in terms of certain legislation enforced by SAMSA.
"SAMSA would like to once again warn 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. SAMSA implores all vessels and ship operators to act responsibly during this period of uncertainty. Improper treatment of stowaways will not be tolerated in any circumstances," it read.
The Authority also emphasized that should any vessel in South African waters experience difficulties of a humanitarian nature occasioned by Covid-19, this should be immediately reported to SAMSA, and SAMSA will endeavour to assist.
"The Covid-19 crisis is not an excuse to break the law. SAMSA will continue to assist and provide guidance to any vessel transiting South Africa’s territorial waters," said SAMSA.