Osama-seekers in Nina search
A top-secret US organisation that helped find al Qaeda's Osama Bin Laden, has been called in to track the American yacht Nina that has been missing in the Tasman Sea since early June, with seven people on board.
Families behind a private search for the yacht said the US State Department had agreed to call in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which apparently has the capability of working out exactly where satellite phone calls made from the yacht come from.
The move came amid questions from the group over the New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre's now-abandoned search for the yacht and whether it was looking in the right place.
The 85-year-old Nina left Opua, in the Bay of Islands, on May 29 bound for Newcastle, Australia. It was last heard from on June 4, when conditions in the Tasman were very rough, but searching only began on June 25. The official search was called off on July 4 with no trace of the Nina or its crew found.
Families of the crew have been operating search flights out of Newcastle for the last week. On their Facebook site they said the State Department had agreed to get NGA to use its global telephone surveillance and storage to focus on a text message sent by 73-year-old Evi Nemeth.
It was sent on June 4 over the Iridium satellite system but never delivered. It was only found later when Iridium agreed to a State Department request to search its systems.
The missing message said: "Thanks storm sails shredded last night, now bare poles. Going 4kt 310deg will update course info @ 6PM."
Nothing more was heard.
The families said the NGA data would be able to precisely pinpoint where the text was sent from and ork out whether the initial search was in the right place.
NGA, based in Springfield, Virginia, is a combat agency within the US Department of Defense. In 2011 its data was credited by the White House with being key to finding Bin Laden in Pakistan, leading to the mission that killed him.
However, their nautical ability came into question early this year when they provided digital maps for a mine countermeasures ship, USS Guardian.
The NGA misplaced the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea by 12 kilometres - and the ship hit the World Heritage Site.
The US Navy has been forced to dismantle the ship piece by piece to remove it.