A passenger on the Queen Mary 2 had to be airlifted off in an emergency involving the NSRI, Netcare 911 and the SA Air Force in “challenging” sea conditions the same day the cruise ship left Durban, having docked there to refuel and deposit six South African crew members.

queen mary 2 nighttime south africa cruise ship liner
The Queen Mary 2 at the time of the emergency evacuation. Photo: NSRI.

The National Sea Rescue Institute was put on alert on Thursday afternoon that a 58-year-old British man on board who suffered from a non-COVID-19 medical emergency needed to be evacuated. The ship was 20 nautical miles off Morgan Bay on the Wild Coast, but was rerouted back to Durban. The ship had docked in Durban on 31 March to drop off 6 crew members who had tested negative for COVID-19.

Jonathan Kellerman, NSRI Durban station commander, said a Western Cape government health EMS had spoken to the ship’s medical team and it was deemed necessary to evacuate the sick man and take him to a hospital.

An SA Air Force 15 Squadron Oryx helicopter, NSRI Durban rescue swimmers and a Netcare 911 ambulance services rescue paramedical team were activated to prepare for the rescue operation 216 nautical miles southwest of Durban, according to the NSRI.

NSRI bases along the East Coast, NSRI Durban, NSRI Shelly Beach, NSRI Port Edward and NSRI East London were placed on high alert to be on stand-by during the helicopter patient evacuation operation.

At 7pm the SAAF 15 Squadron Oryx helicopter, carrying 4 SAAF crew, 2 NSRI rescue swimmers and 3 Netcare 911 rescue paramedics departed Durban.

On arrival at the ship just after 9.30pm, “in challenging conditions” with 25 knot winds gusting to 34 knots and 2 meter swells, an NSRI rescue swimmer and 2 Netcare 911 rescue paramedics were hoisted onto the Queen Mary 2. The passenger was airlifted in a stable condition to a hospital in Durban for further medical care.


Earlier on Thursday the ship had begun its voyage back to Southampton with only 264 – out of a possible 2,695 – passengers on board.

The ship had been kept off-shore for several days beforeh docking so that 27 people on board could be tested for COVID-19, according to a statement by Transnet National Ports Authority today. All tests came back negative, and the six crew members were allowed to disembark.

The ship, which arrived in Durban with 1 215 crew and 264 passengers departed Durban on Thursday, with the remaining 1 209 crew and 264 passengers.