Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Search for Missing Yacht in North Atlantic

Last week a 12m yacht, the "Cheeki Rafiki",  sailing from Caribbean to UK, started taking on water in mid-Atlantic. They were obviously in a serious situation and contact with the yacht was lost early hours of Friday when about 600 miles off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A search was started by the United States Coast Guard and the upturned hull of a sailboat was spotted by a tanker crew that reported it but did not investigate further. The search was called off by USCG on Sunday, about 48 hours after the search started.

The USCG press release said "We appreciate the assistance of the U.S. Air Force, Canadian and the three merchant vessels helping us to conduct a thorough search so far from shore," said Capt. Anthony Popiel, 1st Coast Guard District chief of response. "We are extremely disappointed that we were not able to locate the sailors during the course of this extensive search. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time."

There followed a huge outcry against calling off the search so soon and it has been resumed today. This was after many thousands of people signed petitions calling on the USCG to resume the search and many private yacht owners vowed to go out there in their own boats to search if the USCG would not do it.

I have some questions.

1)  Isn't it a primary function of the USCG to go out there and search for whoever is missing or in trouble? This is a department of US government, paid for by the people. Is it that strapped for cash that it can't search longer than 48 hours for four people who are in dire straits, when they have a pretty good idea of where they are?

2) We have watched with fascination how carefully the Southern Indian Ocean has been searched for a missing aircraft. I accept that searching for a missing yacht or liferaft with four people aboard can't be compared with a search for a plane with hundreds. But they know where this boat is, it was even seen from a ship. They are not guessing or relying on foggy evidence to locate a start point for the search. The boat is there and it is/was afloat. If the crew abandoned ship into the liferaft, as seems the most likely scenario, the raft is likely to be downwind or downcurrent, or a combination of the two, of the position of the abandoned yacht. Why would the USCG assume that the crew were in the water and unable to survive when they had a liferaft available for just such an emergency? People have survived for many months in liferafts, surviving tumultuous storms and everything else that nature has thrown at them before eventually being found.

3) Isn't it maritime law that seamen are required to assist each other when in distress? A report in Metro News says that "the overturned hull of the boat was spotted by a passing tanker shortly after they disappeared but it was not inspected as there was no sign of the crew". People have survived in capsized or even sunken boats for considerable time, about two weeks in the most recent case. Why would the captain of the ship not stop his vessel and investigate. He saw the capsized boat. Unless it was storm conditions he should have been able to launch a boat to cross to the yacht. Banging on the hull and listening for a response would have told them if anyone was alive inside. Seeing it, reporting it and moving on did nothing to assist the crew aside from recording a start point for the search. Is commercial profit so important to the ship's owners that they would not do everything in their power to ascertain that there was nobody there to rescue?

Thanks for reading my rant.