Wreckage of missing yacht found

 Monday February 26, 2007

Wreckage from the New Zealand yacht Manoah, missing since 2005, has been found on a small island in the Tonga group of islands.

The Rescue Coordination Centre said the wreckage of the multi-hulled vessel has been found on Uonuku Island, halfway between Nuku'alofa and the Vava'u islands group, in Tonga.

Tongan Police told Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) the wreckage was found on February 7 and the name Manoah could clearly be seen on the wreckage.

The 12.6m trimaran left Nelson with two crew aboard on June 8 2005 bound for Rarotonga but it was deemed overdue and a massive sea search was launched.

The subsequent search by a RNZAF Orion aircraft, which covered around 370,000 square kilometres, failed to find any sign of the missing crew and the search was suspended on 16 July 2005.

RCCNZ search and rescue officer John Ashby said Tongan Police had told them that there was no trace of the crew and the wreckage, which consisted of the main hull, was covered in barnacles and other sea matter and had obviously been in the water for some time.

"We have passed on all the information we have to the families concerned but unfortunately the find hasn't provided any clues to what happened to Manoah or the fate of her crew."

Nelson coroner Ian Smith last week warned that foreign-flagged yachts may not be up to New Zealand safety standards.

Mr Smith ruled crew members Verona Mary Hunt and Garry Cull accidentally drowned on their way to the Cook Islands.

Mr Cull built and registered the 12.65m-long wooden yacht in Australia.

He sailed it to New Zealand in February 2004, where he began a relationship with Ms Hunt.

On June 9 2005, an acquaintance of the couple received a text message saying they were sailing off Wellington, headed for Rarotonga. It was their last communication.

A friend became concerned on June 26 that no one had heard from them, and on July 14 an air force Orion searched about 60,000 square nautical miles without finding a trace.

The couple would have been vulnerable to being washed overboard, as their were no lifelines around the Manoah, Maritime New Zealand said.

It did not have a liferaft nor jack lines to clip on to and there was no apparent "man overboard" equipment, such as a life ring with a light and flag, and no parachute flares.

Mr Smith said the law requiring pleasure boats leaving the country to reach high safety standards applied only to New Zealand-registered yachts.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority regulations were compatible to New Zealand's for racing yachts but did not cover cruising yachts.

"I can only place a caveat that states wherever possible, and New Zealand citizens intending to embark on foreign-flagged yachts as crew or simply as passengers should be aware that the safety aspects may not be up to New Zealand standards," Mr Smith said.