Mum still holds hope in Nina search

23:06, Dec 01 2013

Six months after the yacht Nina disappeared, Sue Wootton is still switching on her computer every day to scan grainy satellite pictures of an empty Tasman Sea.

"We are at it all day long, every day," she said from London.

She is looking for her 35-year-old son Matthew, one of the seven people aboard the missing 85-year-old American flagged schooner Nina.

An ardent environmentalist, Matt refused to fly so hitched a ride on the yacht to Australia.

"If we knew then what we know now, we would have said 'for God sake get on a plane'," she said.

"What an awful sea it is to cross. We thought it was like crossing from France to England."

Now families are in a limbo that could last for years.

Unless a body is found there will be no legal investigation despite it being the biggest disappearance in the Tasman since the coaster Kaitawa sank off Cape Reinga in 1966 with the loss of 29 lives.

The 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 similar to those that took the Kaitawa.

On June 25 the Rescue Co-ordination Centre began searching and with nothing found, called it off on July 4.

A private group, Texas EquuSearch, and families have raised money for air searches and used crowd sourcing to get 13,000 people around the world looking at satellite pictures provided by New York's DigitalGlobe Inc.

An image from the QuickBird satellite on September 16 was said to be that of Nina, but nothing came of it.

Air searches were continuing this week and have clocked up 297 hours so far.

Wootten and other family members have tried to turn to the cruise ship industry and briefly considered posting a reward for sightings.

But captains have not been willing to get holiday makers involved.

"Everywhere we turn we find a wall and no one wants to help," she said.

She was angry at the way the United States Government refused to help. Six of the seven on Nina were US citizens.

"It feels like a cover-up to me," she said, noting that the US State Department responded by saying New Zealand had suspended the search and would reopen it if any evidence was found.

"They repeat it over and over until we are sick of hearing it," she said.

She knew she would have to decide soon whether her son was alive.

"A lot of the families have given up hope of finding them alive," Wootton said.

"The time will come soon when we have to do that. At the moment there is a slight hope or miracle that they will be found."

Some were convinced Nina was caught in currents in the mid-Tasman and that thanks to rain and fish, they were still alive.

"There is nothing to say they are not alive," she said.

"I would love to see the faces of the people who have not helped us over the last six months."

Nina's fate is disputed in sailing circles.

Critics claim it would have failed the standard "Cat-1" inspection Maritime New Zealand imposes on all locally flagged vessels leaving the country. Foreign-flagged boats are not required to face inspection.

Nina had a large amount of sail - although its last message said they were under bare poles in a storm - but critics say it may have become "hogged" with age, meaning the centre or keel bent upward. Its sheer lines indicated the yacht's back may have been broken.

As well as Wootton, also lost with the Nina were skipper David Dyche III, 58, his wife, Rosemary, 60, son David Dyche IV, 17, Evi Nemeth, 73, Kyle Jackson, 27 and Danielle Wright, 18.

With substantial estates involved with Dyche and Nemeth, the ultimate word on their fate is likely to come in civil action in American courts.

As far as New Zealand is concerned they're lost.