Nina search 'poorly managed' - families

02:59, Jul 22 2014
Nina crew
LOST AT SEA: The Nina and her crew.

Families of seven people lost in the Tasman when their yacht vanished have criticised New Zealand's search as poorly managed.

And a close friend of one of the lost says the Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCCNZ) failed to find the 85-year-old US-flagged schooner Nina a year ago because it searched 354 kilometres too far east.

"They used the wrong drift modelling, they wasted valuable time and resources and tragically, it may have cost lives," New Plymouth offshore sailor Paul Wilson said.

At the same time international satellite phone operator Iridium Communications Inc denied hampering the search for the yacht that left Opua on May 29 last year for Australia.

A review of the search praised RCCNZ, part of Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), saying it went much further than any other search organisation would have.

In a letter to MNZ chief executive Keith Manch, families say the search "fell short and was poorly managed".

They were concerned at a delay in launching the search and the selection of search co-ordinates.

Iridium provided last-known positions generated by crew member Evi Nemeth using her satellite phone.

Families claimed the Iridium position data was known to be inaccurate.

The strongest criticism of the review came from Wilson, a friend of Nemeth, writing on Facebook's Bringing Home the Nina and Her Crew.

RCCNZ had relied too much on Iridium, Wilson said, saying that at one stage the positions were transmitted six minutes apart but disagreed on position by over 965 kilometres.

"Despite all the information available at the time, the staff on hand, and the resources available, RCCNZ failed to see the big picture.

"To put it bluntly, RCCNZ didn't know what they were doing when it came to Iridium positions and they dropped the ball."

Being too far east, they "searched in areas at a critical time where there was little hope of finding Nina".

The review report's author, former head of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, David Baird, was critical of what he said was the way Iridium had withheld a message from the yacht on June 4, 2013, that had not reached its destination.

It was released to RCCNZ only on July 3, under pressure from the United States State Department.

Iridium associate director Diane Hockenberry said Iridium was not consulted over the review and stressed that it had not been asked at the time about the content of a message.

RCCNZ had asked Iridium for the last-known position of Nina.

"That is what we were asked for and what we provided," she said, adding Iridium routinely worked with search organisations around the world.

It took Iridium 45 minutes to come up with the last-known position of Nina, based on Nemeth's phone.

"We work with the utmost sense of urgency," Hockenberry said.

The lost message, which was an email from Nemeth sent accidentally without an address, had said the yacht had shredded sails and was sailing with bare poles.

Baird said the message if handed over to RCCNZ when it had asked would have changed the whole dynamic of the search.

Iridium said that when first contacted by RCCNZ, Iridium did not know of the message.

Iridium discovered the message later after RCCNZ called subsequently, asking if there was "any other activity" on the Nemeth's satphone.

Iridium found the message and told RCCNZ it could not release the detail due to electronic privacy laws in the United States restricting Iridium from releasing text messages or data content messages without court orders or verified requests for a US agency.

"Once we received a written request from the US Department of State we responded within 2.5 hours with the contents of the text message," Hockenberry said.