Nina searchers praised

04:11, Jul 17 2014
Nina crew
LOST AT SEA: The Nina and her crew.

Refusal by a major satellite phone company to co-operate in the search for the yacht Nina for 19 days negatively affected the search, a report says.

A review of the search for the 85-year-old schooner Nina in the Tasman Sea last year also says that had the vessel been inspected in Opua before sailing it would not have been allowed to sail due to key deficiencies.
It was also leaking.

The 110 page report, by David Baird, a former head of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, was commissioned by Maritime New Zealand to review how its Wellington-based Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCCNZ) ran the June-July 2013 search for the Nina.

Baird praised the search for going beyond what any other nation would do.

"RCCNZ went further in effort, resource allocation, consultation and duration than many of the other highly regarded (search and rescue) authorities would have done," he said.

The yacht sailed from Opua for Newcastle in Australia on May 29 last year, sailing straight into a severe winter storm. A search began on June 14 and ended on July 5 having covered 2.5 million square kilometres without anything being found.


Nina did not have high-frequency radio and had only one old-model emergency location position indicator.

Contact was briefly maintained between crew member Evi Nemeth and Auckland weather-forecast provider Bob McDavitt on a satellite phone from Iridium, a company based in McLean, outside Washington.

One key text message from Nemeth on June 4 stated: "Thanks storm sails shredded last night, now bare poles. Going 4kts 310 deg. Will update course info at 6pm."

Not only was that the last message from Nina, McDavitt did not get it.

Baird said the message was only revealed on July 3 when Iridium, under pressure from the US State Department, finally made it available to RCCNZ.

He was critical of Iridium's behaviour, saying that early on the company had the ability to interrogate its system and get some idea of the undelivered message.

It refused to give RCCNZ position information when contacted on June 15.

"NZ police were requested to try and obtain that information," Baird said.

"The police were also unsuccessful. Iridium only provided them with the final message position, and that there had been no further calls."

Baird said the authorities had to get help from the United States Embassy who got the US State Department on to the case.

He said that if the message had been delivered on June 4 concerns would have been raised earlier because experienced yachtsmen "would have realised that the Nina could be in severe danger".

Even if this message had remained undelivered but its contents provided to RCCNZ when they first contacted Iridium on June 15, "then the whole dynamic of the search would have started at another level."

RCCNZ maintained their patience and persistence with Iridium but "this took considerable time (19 days) and needed the intervention of the US State Department, for the critical information relating to the condition and the safety of those on board Nina to be released".

An Iridium spokeswoman, contacted late at night in Washington, said the company would have to review the full report before commenting.

"Iridium takes search and rescue inquiries such as these with the utmost sense of urgency and responded to all inquiries as quickly as possible," she said.

American-flagged yachts are exempted from departure inspections by Yachting New Zealand.

Baird said that if Nina had been a New Zealand-registered yacht "it is possible, even probable that she would not have passed the YNZ [Yachting New Zealand] inspection".

It did not have a high-frequency radio, radar reflector, or distress flares.

He also revealed the yacht had a new Cummins 150 engine fitted just before sailing but the company that sold it would not sign off the warranty because the skipper David Dyche III had installed it improperly, resulting in it giving off abnormal engine vibrations and letting in water through the stern.

"This concerned the engine supplier but the owner was apparently not concerned," Baird said.

The report gave an insight into the capabilities of the newly overhauled New Zealand Air Force P3K Orions which have a special Israeli Elta radar capable of detecting small targets from long range.

"While the specifics of the capabilities of this radar are classified it is noted that during the searches for the Nina, the P3K2 Orion located and identified a number of targets [yachts] that were smaller than the Nina."

The report was commissioned after families of those lost claimed the search was inadequate. They also alleged RCCNZ did not follow up targets they later identified on satellite photos of the Tasman Sea.

The report noted how the same technique was used in searching for the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370.

Baird said the reliance on satellite photos did not work with the airliner or the yacht and more work was needed before they could be used.

A satellite image said to be Nina was widely used around the world by families criticising New Zealand, but Baird said Defence Force experts found there was a less than 1 per cent probability that it was Nina "and the probability the identified feature was a wave top is [greater than] 90 per cent. "

Baird said many of the issues around the loss of Nina should be before a coronal inquiry, but a spokesman for the coroner's office here said they had no jurisdiction.

Those lost were Dyche, 58, his wife, Rosemary, 60, son David Dyche IV, 17, Nemeth, 73, Kyle Jackson, 27, and Danielle Wright, 18, all Americans. Also aboard was Matthew Wootton, 35, a leader of the British Greens, who refused, on environmental grounds, to fly.