How safe is it to cruise in South African waters?

The coastline between Cape Town and Durban is one of the most treacherous in the world.

The coastline between Cape Town and Durban is one of the most treacherous in the world.

Published Mar 31, 2024


My first introduction to cruising was around twenty-five years ago when I did a Nile River cruise and since then I have been hooked.

A few years ago, on my first cruise in South African waters, from Cape Town to Durban we hit a storm just off the coast of Port Elizabeth and we were not allowed to enter the port due to the storms. The outside deck was locked down and we had to stay inside.

What amazed me at the time was, despite the storm raging outside, there was a sense of complete calm among the passengers and crew. Everything continued as usual and the next morning we awoke in the balmy Indian Ocean, and entered the port of Durban in calm waters.

What many cruise passengers in South Africa don’t realise, is that the coastline between Cape Town and Durban is one of the most treacherous in the world.

Sea captains have talked about the ‘mountains of water’ off the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape. The 1,500km sea route between Durban and Cape Town is a graveyard for more than 2,500 vessels dating back to the 1500’s.

Considering that the average age of cruise passengers in South Africa is around forty years old, they would probably not recall the sinking of the Oceanos in August 1991.

It was a story that made headlines throughout the world - and being South Africans, of course, there was a great deal of humour surrounding the sinking - from the captain and the crew being the first to abandon the ship, to the entertainers, between acts, using a radio phone to broadcast a mayday call.

When the crew realised that the ship was in danger, they panicked and forgot to close the lower deck windows. As the crew didn't sound any alarms, passengers weren’t aware of what was happening until they saw water flooding in and when passengers went to the bridge to find the captain, but no one was there.

The Oceanos sank the following day, after the South African Navy along with the South African Air Force launched a seven-hour mission in which 16 helicopters were used to hoist each of the 225 passengers off the deck of the sinking ship - a world first in terms of sea rescue.

Fortunately for the present generation of cruisers, times have changed and the modern cruise liners that cruise the South African waters are built and operated in accordance with strict requirements, with all ships carrying seaworthy lifeboats and life rafts for every person on board, plus a specified minimum additional capacity.

These ships go above and beyond what is required, with backup mechanical, navigational and safety provisions, and the crews have extensive training plus regular drills for emergency situations, including the evacuation of a ship.

So, here’s to happy, safe cruising off the shores of Southern Africa!

IOL Travel