Kilwa Sea Rescue

If the place that you’re boating in doesn’t have any rescue facilities, and you develop a problem, what do you do?
In South Africa, the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) is so synonymous with sea and ocean rescues: – with pleasure cruises going wrong, shipping disasters and any other water orientated ill that may be befall a hapless person, that we don’t even think twice about it – calling the NSRI is a given.
What happens in countries where is no such thing as the NSRI? Where considerate seamanship doesn’t seem to exist? Where, if you get into trouble, you’re on your own?

Map of the area. Other than ancient ruins, there isn’t much there.

In Tanzania, in the Kilwa Bay, I unexpectedly became part of a rescue. There was nothing dramatic about it, there was no danger to any person, but if our boat hadn’t come along when we did, and passed close enough to be within shouting distance, the thirty odd people on the stranded boat would probably have spent the night on a remote sandbank. Kilwa Bay, in southern Tanzania, is a vast expanse of water.  Several islands lie in this bay; islands on which some of Africa’s most fascinating ruins lie.

Ancient buildings built by Persians.

We were returning to Kilwa Masoko, the town on the mainland, from Songo Mnara on an old tub of a dhow-ish boat, under sail, with all the time in the world, reflecting on the fascinating ruins which in the 11th century, and for another two hundred years, had been a thriving city port.

We passed another old sail boat, which was stationery. I liked the colours of the people’s clothing, and started taking photographs. A shout went up, and our skipper answered, but didn’t seem interested. I actually thought that the shout had been directed at my photo taking – that once again,

The stranded boat.

 I was in trouble for photographing people without their permission. The exchange carried on, and eventually, the other boat skipper started shouting ‘mafuta mafuta’, which is petrol in Swahili.
It turned that the spark plugs weren’t functioning, and being stuck on the sand bar, they couldn’t use the sail either.  When they asked for help, our skipper was totally unhelpful, until the offer of their petrol was made.

 We came up alongside them, a line was thrown, and they were pulled off the bank, and up to us. Before our skipper would move off, all the petrol had to be transferred to our boat. No Sir – there was no trust there!

Transferring petrol

With the petrol transferred (by crew members with lit cigarettes), we towed them, and another little boat, that claimed a free ride, all the way to Kilwa Masoko town, only slipping the tow rope as we neared the jetty.
Thank goodness for the NSRI here in South Africa, and other sea rescue organizations around the world – imagine if the NSRI behaved like that and demanded upfront payment before helping?

Towing the boat to safe harbour.

Many sea rescue organizations are non profit organizations that rely on donations from the public; often they are not funded by their governments. The South African National Sea Rescue Institute depends on you and me for donations. Be generous: one day, you and I may be dependent on them to be rescued. 

The Galavanter and a local guide at Kilwa.

By Kathryn Costello

I travel. I read. I get up to mischief. I write about what I have been up to. I also have fun writing down the stories that I told my daughter when she was little about a dolphin named Michaela. I am a tourism consultant. Owning and managing a successful guesthouse, working for tourism organizations and travelling has given me a lot of insight about what makes a tourism orientated business successful.

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