US based Satellite telephone company Iridium Communications failed to give New Zealand rescuers details of a dramatic final message from a missing yacht Nina until the US State Department intervened, a detailed review of the search effort has revealed.
The report, released this week into the search for the vintage American yacht Nina, which disappeared in the Tasman Sea in June 2013 with six Americans and one Britsh sailor aboard, said the entire dynamic of the rescue operation would have changed had the message been delivered earlier.
The critically important message was a text sent on a satellite phone by crew member Evi Nemeth to NZ meteorologist Bob McDavitt on June 4 revealing Nina had shredded her storm sails after being caught in a strom force winds.
An extract from the report, shows just what could have been.
McDavitt is a well-known and respected meteorologist who retired in 2012 from the NZ Met office where he had responsibility for marine and aviation weather forecasting. Now as a consultant he provides services to cruising yachts, providing weather forecasts and voyage forecasts. (www.metbob.com
On Monday 3rd at 1500 June that Evi Nemeth called Bob McDavitt indicating that they were experiencing some rough weather and requested a weather forecast and best passage advice.
Evi Nemeth and Bob McDavitt made a number of text and email exchanges through Monday 3rd and and Tuesday 4
The critical messages are detailed below.
0930 – Tuesday 4th June
text message via satphone Evi Nemeth to Bob McDavitt:-
Any weather for Nina – S33 54 E165 18
1125 – Tuesday 4th June
Bob McDavitt replies:- Stay hove-to until around 6pm Wednesday. SW wind peak at 45 to 60 kts was
around 6am today. Peak swell 8 significant around 9pm tonight
1150 – Tuesday 4th June – Evi Nemeth replies to Bob McDavitt and or possibly
Thanks storm sails shredded last night, now bare poles. Going 4kts 310 deg.
Will update course info at 6pm.
THIS 1150 MESSAGE WAS NEVER DELIVERED TO BOB McDAVITT AND OR OTHERS. IT REMAINED IN THE IRIDIUM SYSTEM UNTILL FINALLY RELEASED BY IRIDIUM TO RCCNZ ON WEDNESDAY 3RD JULY
The Search and Resuce authorities the Australia-bound yacht was merely running late due to rough weather as Iridium did not pass on the text revealing it was in trouble, despite a June 15 request from RCCNZ for all relevant data regarding the Nina, the review said.
As concerns about the yacht mounted, the operation moved into 'distress phase' on June 27, meaning aerial searches were stepped up amid grave fears for the lives of the Nina's crew.
But the review, written by former Australian maritime rescue chief David Baird, said Iridium still did not pass on the message until July 3, after the RCCNZ asked US authorities for help in dealing with the Iridium, a US based company.
'Even if this message had remained undelivered but its contents provided to RCCNZ when they first contacted Iridium on 15th June, then the whole dynamic of the search would have started at another level and the distress phase would have been declared much earlier,' it said.
No trace of the Nina has ever been found, despite a search that Baird found was thorough and professionally conducted.
'It is my firm view as the reviewer that this unfortunate result cannot not be attributed to any lack of action, commitment or effort by (New Zealand rescuers),' he said.
He called for better information sharing from satellite phone operators in search and rescue operations.
In what many observers would see as a statement, which has world wide search and resuce impications, Baird writes.
'RCCNZ needs to engage with Iridium and other service providers to explore ways in which information on communications can be provided without having to resort to engaging police and other authorities such as the (US) State Department,'