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Missing text message reveals ripped storm sails in Nina search

by Rosemary Neilson, Maritime NZ on 5 Jul 2013
The schooner Nina . ..

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) is continuing to assess all available information in the search for the crew of the American schooner Nina, which is missing en route from New Zealand to Australia. Today’s radar search of more than 97,000 square nautical miles has been completed without any sighting of the vessel.

The 21m (70ft) Nina, sailing from Opua in the Bay of Islands to Newcastle with seven people on board, has not been heard from since 4 June.

On 15 June, RCCNZ obtained from Iridium, a satellite communications company, details of the approximate position and actual time (1150 NZST 04 June 2013) of the last transmission from the Nina’s satellite phone.

Nigel Clifford, Maritime New Zealand’s General Manager Safety and Response Services, said the position information was then factored into search area calculations, along with other available information.

'As concern for the vessel increased, RCCNZ made further enquiries with Iridium about all transmissions made from the Nina’s satellite phone during the period of interest,' said Mr Clifford.

On 29 June it became known that the last transmission (a text message), on 4 June, had not been delivered to its intended recipient by the Iridium system. RCCNZ, working with the United States State Department, sought the release of the undelivered text message contents, which RCCNZ received on 3 July.

A copy of the text message follows:
from_unixtime(received_time): 2013-06-03 23:50:25
status: UNDELIVERABLE
src_addr: [phone number]
dest_addr: *2
short_message: THANKS STORM SAILS SHREDDED LAST NIGHT, NOW BARE POLES. GOINING 4KT 310DEG WILL UPDATE COURSE INFO @ 6PM

Mr Clifford said the contents of the text message were considered, along with all other information, as part of the planning for today’s search. 'The text message gives a clearer indication of the condition of the vessel on 4 June, and the weather that was being experienced at the time,' he said.

'The text message clearly indicates that the Nina was affected by the storm, but gives no indication of immediate distress.

'While it shows that Nina had survived the storm up to that point, very poor weather continued in the area for many hours and has been followed by other storms. The text message, in isolation, does not indicate what might have happened subsequently.

'However, the text message states that Nina’s course information would be updated in just over six hours’ time, at 6pm.
'There have been no further transmissions or messages from the Nina since the undelivered text message on 4 June. There were also no distress messages from either of the two distress alerting devices on board (EPIRB and Spot satellite personal tracker),' Mr Clifford said.

RCCNZ has discussed the details of the text message and other search information gathered to date with representatives of the family and friends of the crew.

Search and rescue officers at RCCNZ will evaluate all the information and decisions about the search operation will be considered overnight and tomorrow.

New Zealand’s Maritime Radio is continuing to conduct broadcasts in New Zealand’s search and rescue region, and Rescue Coordination Centre Australia (RCC Australia) is assisting with broadcasts on coastal radio.

Background

There are seven people on board the schooner Nina, six Americans (three men aged 17, 28 and 58, and three women aged 18, 60 and 73) and a British man aged 35.

To date, the RCCNZ has coordinated eight searches, with an RNZAF P3K2 Orion aircraft completing extensive radar and observation searches of the Tasman Sea. Two other aerial shoreline searches have also been conducted (on 28 and 29 June) but no sign has been found of the vessel or its crew.

The schooner Nina, built in 1928, left Opua on 29 May and was last heard from on 4 June, when the vessel was about 370 nautical miles west-north-west of Cape Reinga. Records show that conditions at the vessel’s last known position were very rough, with winds of 80kmh gusting to 110kmh and swells of up to 8m.

The vessel is equipped with a satellite phone, a Spot satellite personal tracking device which allows regular tracking signals to be sent manually, and an emergency beacon. The emergency beacon has not been activated.

After concerns were raised by family and friends, the RCCNZ instigated a communications search on 14 June, using a range of communications methods to broadcast alerts to the vessel and others in the area. RCCNZ determined that the vessel should have arrived at its intended destination by 25 June, and aerial searches were instigated when it had not arrived by that date.

Search summary

4 July
An RNZAF P3 Orion departed at 9am and searched an area of 97,000 square nautical miles extending as far west as the Middleton and Elizabeth reefs in the Tasman Sea.

2 July
An aerial search south of Norfolk Island, covering approximately 2,100 square nautical miles. The P3 Orion was airborne at 6am and searched until 4.30pm before returning to New Zealand.
1 July
An aerial search of approximately 3,780 square nautical miles north of North Cape. The P3 Orion arrived on scene at about 9.30am and continued searching until 6pm. Conditions in the search area were good, with excellent visibility.
30 June
An extensive aerial search of 4,830 square nautical miles north-east of Northland. The P3 Orion arrived at the search area at around 8am and conducted an aerial and radar search until approximately 4pm.
29 June
An extended shoreline search for the crew was undertaken for a second day without success. RCCNZ tasked a helicopter to perform a coastal search from Port Waikato to New Plymouth. The Tauranga-based Phillips Search and Rescue helicopter was on scene at around 11.45am.
28 June
A twin-engine fixed-wing aircraft was tasked to search the shoreline and coast, starting at Tauroa Point at 10.45am, along Ninety Mile Beach, north of Northland and out to and around Three Kings Islands. The search finished at 5pm.
26 June
A search was completed of 324,000 square nautical miles between northern New Zealand and the Australian coast, based on the vessel suffering damage but continuing to make progress towards Australia.
25 June
A search area of 140,000 square nautical miles was covered, to the immediate north-north-east of New Zealand, based on the vessel being disabled and drifting.
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