Sailors who sacrificed their lives still shunned
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DURBAN - IT HAS been four years since promises were made to posthumously honour three sailors who sacrificed themselves to save the lives of fellow naval officers in a gas leak.
They were Leading Seaman Amrithlall Tothara Ramdin, 41, from Naval Base Durban; Able Seaman Francois William Mundell, 26, from SAS Makhanda, of George, Western Cape, and Seaman Henro ter Borg, 21, of the SA Navy Maritime Reaction Squadron (MRS), of Brackenfell, Cape Town.
The men were called to assist Department of Public Works workers who were overcome by gas fumes while working in a sewerage pit in Durban in February 2017.
According to the SANDF statement, a sewage valve that was being worked on developed a leak and the unidentified gas, which was assumed to be methane, hindered their ability to breathe.
“They tried to escape the pit but and lost consciousness. One of the contractors ran for assistance and approached a passing bus carrying MRS and other SANDF members.
“Three SANDF members reacted in an act of bravery and unselfishness with the intention of saving the lives of their fellow countrymen but unfortunately they succumbed to the high levels of fumes and died in the pit,” the statement said.
Using a compressed air breathing apparatus they recovered six bodies. A further 24 sailors and soldiers were taken to hospital for treatment.
A month after their deaths SA Navy Chief Vice-admiral Mosuwa Hlongwane said they would receive posthumous medals and honours for their bravery.
“While no word or deed can ever compensate the bereaved families for their loss, or serve to recompense for their sacrifice, we are able to, at the very least, recognise and reward their bravery and courage, albeit posthumously,” the statement said.
However, four years have passed and no honours have been bestowed, in spite of attempts by loved ones and military veterans associations to give them the recognition.
Ramdin’s widow, Verusha, has continued to appeal to the various departments.
“My emails and letters are never responded to, and my calls are unanswered. You don’t get closure. A void has been left in our lives and hearts. I haven’t received workman’s compensation – I have a family to support.” Ramdin left a daughter and a son. “My daughter is 19 and my son is 13. The day she learnt her father died, my daughter was hysterical and inconsolable. Not a day goes by where she doesn’t miss him. My son is now at the age where he needs his father as a role model so he knows how to grow up to be a gentleman. He needs his dad to teach him life lessons like how to shave,” she said.
Ramdin and Verusha had known each other for 22 years and were married for 17. They lived on the Bluff.
“There was never a dull moment with him, we always said we would grow old together and take care of each other, but that’s never going to happen,” she said.
Avishkar Motilal from the SA Indian Legion, an affiliate of the Military Veterans Association, said he contacted the departments last week.
“We received no response. It feels as though the issue has been swept under the rug and we are being disrespected,” he said.
The SANDF, Department of Military Veterans as well as the Department of Justice and Correctional Services did not respond at the time of publishing.