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Report Released On Missing Moeraki Bay

The importance of mariners regularly reporting their positions to a nominated person ashore or to a registered radio station has been highlighted in the Maritime Safety Authority’s final report on the disappearance of the fishing vessel Moeraki Bay in May 2001.

The Moeraki Bay, with a crew of two on board, was last seen off Palliser Bay on 17 May 2001.

That was also the last day anyone spoke to the skipper, when he checked the weather conditions around the Wellington coast with several other skippers and talked to his partner on his cell phone.

Unfortunately, as there was no plan for regular contact, and no arrangement as to what would happen if contact was not made, Moeraki Bay was not reported missing until six days later, on 23 May 2001.

“When family and friends were unable to contact the skipper and the deckhand they assumed that, because the weather conditions had been bad, they had sought the shelter of the coast and were out of cell phone range,” says the Acting Director of Maritime Safety, Tony Martin.
“If there is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy it is about keeping in touch while you are at sea. Call someone at a specified time each day and tell them where you are, and where you plan to go, especially if you are changing your plans.”

“A search and rescue operation at sea can be difficult at the best of times, but if it has been days since you last reported in, the search area grows and your chances of being found shrink,” says Mr Martin.

At the time Moeraki Bay went missing there was concern about a diesel fuel additive, which appeared to be affecting the reliability of some vessel’s diesel engines.

Testing of other vessels which refuelled around the same time, and from the same pump as Moeraki Bay, has proved inconclusive. For this reason the report is unable to conclude whether fuel problems could have been a factor in the vessel’s disappearance.

The report states “Whilst it seems likely that the vessel was overwhelmed by a catastrophic event on 17 May or very shortly thereafter, there is no tangible evidence to be able to determine the cause of the tragic loss of the Moeraki Bay and her two crew members.”

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