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Thu Jun 30 08:42:45 SAST 2016

Missing yachtsmen were denied the chance of rescue, families say

Tammy Petersen | 02 February, 2016 20:35
While a hull was recently spotted off Port Elizabeth, a year after the catamaran went missing, authorities were unable to bring it back to shore and no trace of the men have yet been found. File photo

The families of three sailors who went missing at sea a year ago say the company which employed their loved ones denied them the opportunity to be rescued.

Anthony Murray, 58, Reginald Robertson, 59, and Jaryd Payne, 20, were delivering the Leopard catamaran, Moorings A5130/Sunsail RC044-978, from Cape Town to Phuket when all contact was lost during a cyclone on January 18 last year.

While a hull was recently spotted off Port Elizabeth, a year after the catamaran went missing, authorities were unable to bring it back to shore and no trace of the men have yet been found.

But, in a statement made by the families of the sailors, they say the company, Sunsail/Tui Group, has not made every effort to get answers on what happened.

Jeremy Savage, Murray’s brother-in-law, read a statement to journalists on Monday in which the families claim they have been treated like adversaries.

Repeated requests to meet with the company representatives have been turned down as the company does not believe it will "serve any purpose," Savage read.

"From the outset, the three families have had to drive first a search and rescue mission and now a search and recovery effort.

"We implored the company for help and information when we realised we had not heard from our men in the days after January 18, 2015, only to be told that we were over-reacting.

"We were told that our men had encountered 'a little bit of bad weather’. We were never told about their position in the path of Cyclose Bansi which reached windspeeds of over 180 kms per hour."

The families further allege they reported the catamaran missing to the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre on February 11 and February 12 last year.

"The company resisted this most fundamental of nautical codes, although since then we have had to repeatedly request Sunsail/Tui Group not to misrepresent this fact."

Savage said the families had created a Facebook group which has grown to 5000 people who have assisted in the search for the men and the hull over the past year.

"We are the ones who live with the knowledge that had any or all of our men survived the events of January 18, they were denied the chance of rescue because a multi-billion-dollar global company chose not to alert the maritime safety authorities when scheduled report-ins was missed.

"Authorities told us that losing contact with a vessel at a time of severe weather warrants the issuing of a situation of 'uncertain distress' by maritime safety authorities should they be made aware of the situation."

When contacted for comment, spokesperson Marion Telsnig said the company was "saddened" to read the families' statement.

"Whilst we do not agree with a number of the allegations made therein, we do not intend to enter into a public exchange on any specific points at this stage as we would prefer to address these directly with the families during a private meeting," she said.

"However, at the present time the management of Sunsail are focused on trying to locate the vessel and so it would prefer that any such meeting take place at a later date."

According to updates published on their website, it was alerted to a sighting in May of an upturned vessel by a container ship at sea near Mauritius.

Bad weather conditions however stopped an MRCC vessel from locating it.

"Subsequently, Sunsail approached a number of professional response companies on Mauritius with a view to sending out a professional response team and dive crew to the area where the upturned vessel was last seen.

"Working alongside the MRCC, Sunsail has selected a local specialist firm to investigate the area specified by the MRCC taking into consideration prevailing drift patterns," an entry dated June 17 reads.

Sunsail in July also appointed a specialist firm in Mauritius to search in the identified area. After 21 days at sea, no trace of it was found.

Source News 24

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