Two mystery boats in rescue bid

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 16:17 17/06/2013

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A New Zealand air force Orion has been called in to assist in what is being described as an apparent sinking of one of two mystery boats that were ordered out of Samoa two weeks ago.

Maritime New Zealand says the 31 metre boat Horizons began to take on water 280 kilometres south west of Pago Pago in American Samoa.

But before the Orion could reach the boat in distress the vessel Last Stall, described by Maritime New Zealand as a charter fishing boat, went alongside Horizon and took off two Americans and a Canadian.

Horizons was expected to sink but remained afloat for now. It was not known what caused it to take on water.

Both Horizons and Last Stall have been the centre of intrigue in Samoa since May, and there has been no explanation of what they are doing.

They both look like luxury boats.

On May 30 the Talamua website reported that  Horizon and  Last Stall both were anchored offshore of Saoluafata village, east of the capital Apia.

They had not received customs or immigration clearance.

The Samoan police boat Nafanua seized both boats and took them to Matautu Wharf in Apia Harbour.

Talamua, which said there were guns and ammunition seized, reported that five adults on board, three men and women - all foreigners, were taken in for questioning.

It said the boats were raided when policeman had become curious about the boat after seeing it out at sea as he drove through nearby Luatuanu'u to and from work.

Residents told him nothing about the boat other than that it appeared to be a fishing vessel.

In May Police Commissioner Lilomaiava Fou Taioalo confirmed the raid but not the details of sea raid.

"I have not seen the report yet," Lilomaiava said.

"No one is in custody at the moment."

Talamua reported that there had been earlier cases of ships calling at remote villages to off-load cargo. Residents had received tips not to report them.

While police initially told media there were weapons on the boats, on June 7 Police said there were no guns aboard.

Talamua said entry permits were issued for the boats in March. An extension was granted when a leak developed in one of boats both of which were supposed to be research vessels.

An Immigration official said there was not enough evidence on board both boats to say that they were on a research trip.

Four of the crews are American citizens while two Canadians flew over to join them.

Two weeks ago the boats were escorted out to sea.

Maritime New Zealand says first reports that the Horizons was in trouble were picked up about 4.30am in Honolulu, and later the crew said the boat was taking on water and expected to sink.

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Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand search and rescue mission co-ordinator Dave Wilson said three boats had been sent to help the Horizons, which was about 280 kilometres southwest of American Samoa, with Last Stall the first to arrive.

The Orion had been had been due to arrive about 2pm, but was recalled once the crew were rescued.

A navigation warning would be issued alerting shipping to the presence of Horizons, thought to be a long-range support vessel for fishing charters.

Liferafts were deployed alongside, in case it became necessary to abandon ship, with the crew equipped with a handheld vhf radio to maintain communications.

Last Stall is continuing to Tonga with the rescued crew on board, a journey expected to take around two days.

- Fairfax Media

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