Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) has advised that the rescue of a crew member off the fishing vessel Kalepi from the Island of Hunga Haapi in Tonga will now be managed by Tongan authorities, including the ongoing search for two missing fishermen.
RCCNZ began coordinating a wider search for Tongan authorities following their call for assistance late yesterday evening. Tongan authorities had unsuccessfully tried to locate the overdue vessel which left Nuku’alofa, Tonga, at 4pm on Thursday (29 November) with three people on board. It was due back on Friday evening (30 November) but never arrived.
A short time ago, Tonga Police thanked RCCNZ and the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) for its assistance in the search for the vessel. RNZAF crew successfully located the Kalepi, found empty, about 50 nautical miles (90km) north east of Nuku’alofa at around 1pm today. About an hour later, a signal fire was spotted on a nearby island where one crew member was spotted. The two remaining crew are still unaccounted for.
RCCNZ spokesperson, Neville Blakemore, said the RNZAF Orion would now refuel in Tonga before heading home to New Zealand.
He said Tongan authorities were tasking a vessel to head to Hunga Haapi Island where the crew member had been located. It is hoped any information he may provide could assist in locating the two remaining crew members.
RCCNZ is responsible for coordinating all Class III search and rescues in the New Zealand Search and Rescue Region. This region is one of the largest search and rescue areas in the world. It covers a large part of the Pacific Ocean from the Equator to the Antarctic, and from half way to Australia to half way to Chile. This area amounts to 30 million square kilometres.