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Hartbeespoort boat disaster: Catering company could be to blame

The boat 'Prime Time' caught fire over the weekend during a party cruise, leaving four people dead.

A boat caught fire in the Hartbeespoort Dam on 19 November 2016. Picture: Hartbeespoort Emergency Rescue Unit/Facebook.com.

JOHANNESBURG – The owner of Boaters World, Nico Wessels, has told Eyewitness News that he thinks the equipment that the catering company used could be what started the fire as no flammable or gas appliances are installed on the boat.

The boat 'Prime Time' caught fire over the weekend during a party cruise, leaving four people dead.

Police have since launched an inquest investigation.

About 200 people were on the boat when the fire broke out.

Wessels says he is certain no cooking was done on the boat as it has no gas appliances in it.

He says he believes the catering company could have sparked the blaze.

“Like in this case the food was prepared on a braai outside at the time, so the people used Bain Maries to warm their food up before the event. That’s what I think went wrong with the Bain Maries and the fire.”

He says he did everything in his power to contain the fire and make sure it didn't spread to other parts of the boat.

“The first thing I did was I turned the boat to the wind so we can contain the fire towards the back of the boat. [We] got everybody downstairs to the front of the boat, away from the fire and danger.”

As inspections continue and members of the public continue to arrive to view 'Prime Time', Wessels says Boaters World has started exploring ways to prevent the tragedy from happening again.

[WATCH] Hartbeespoort boat fire: What really happened

PASSENGERS PANICKED

Wessels says he believes the safety equipment on the boat was enough to keep the passengers safe and nobody would have died if people remained calm.

He says he had personally checked the boat according to Boater’s World procedure to ensure the boat was fit to cruise.

Wessels says the passengers were also briefed on what they should do in case of an emergency.

“As the people get on a boat, they do a safety briefing to make sure everybody wears their life jackets just in case of emergency. For any fire situation there’s a fire drill, which sits in the back and front of the boat.”

He says it’s unfortunate that people panicked, resulting in the loss of lives.

“I understand it’s an emergency situation, people panicked as it shows, a lady that was locked in a toilet ran away from the fire into the toilet thinking she will be safe and inhaled smoke.”

Police are continuing with interviews today but the South African Maritime Safety Authority is expected to wrap up its investigation as it has concluded all its interviews.

POLICE WON’T RULE OUT RECKLESSNESS

At the same time, North West police say although they are not ruling out the possibility of recklessness in their inquest investigation into the fatal boat fire, they are not investigating anyone in particular.

Police say officers have been maintaining a presence on the scene to investigate the circumstances around the incident.

Meanwhile, the Marine Safety Authority’s Christen Camp said they are looking into whether the small boat's Regulation's Act was adhered to.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)