Elite SA police stop ship’s mutiny

Table Bay harbour.
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In the early hours of Tuesday morning members of South Africa’s elite police Special Task Force boarded a Taiwanese fishing vessel outside Table Bay harbour in Cape Town and arrested mutinous crew members who were holding the captain and first officer hostage.

The rescue drama began at 3pm on Monday when the South African Police Service (SAPS) learned that in a mutiny on board the fishing vessel Balena, 10 of the 29 crew members, all Vietnamese, had taken the captain and first officer hostage and commandeered the craft. With the ship still in international waters, the mutineers demanded to be allowed to enter Table Bay harbour.

A task team was quickly assembled, made up of the SAPS Special Task Force, Western Cape Legal Services, the Organised Crime Unit, the Dog Unit, the Port of Entry Unit, the National Ports Authorities and the Department of Home Affairs, as well as hostage negotiators. The Balena crew were then authorised to enter South African waters.

At 5:30am yesterday morning members of the Special Task Force boarded the hijacked vessel, freed the hostages and took the crew into custody. The team, made up of highly skilled and trained members from the Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban units, flew from Pretoria to Cape Town to deal with the hostage situation. The Special Task Force is specifically trained to deal with high-risk situations, including hostage taking, on land, sea or air.

The vessel was boarded before it entered Table Bay harbour and, with the crew offering no resistance, arrested without the use of force.

The 10 mutineers are being held in custody and face charges of kidnapping and, alternatively, piracy, which involves any act of illegal violence or detention at sea. The other 19 crew members on board played no part in the hijacking and have not been detained.

The ship’s captain was unharmed, but the first officer was injured during the mutiny and needed to be treated by paramedics.

Tim Williams, acting national commissioner of the SAPS, commended the special forces’ swift action. “This proves that the SAPS have the capacity and skills to deal with any security related situation effectively,” he said.

“A special word of thanks to the Special Task Force, the Western Cape SAPS provincial team for the excellent coordination of this exercise and to the Marine and Coastal Management, National Ports Authority and immigration officials from the Department of Home Affairs whose cooperation was essential.”

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