Orion to join search for overdue sailing ship

5 December 2007, 9:00pm

A Royal New Zealand Airforce Orion will tomorrow (Thursday 6 December) join the search for the overdue sailing ship Alvei which was scheduled to reach New Zealand on 1 December.

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) has launched an Alert Phase to find the Alvei, after a concerned relative of an Australian crew member contacted RCCNZ on 29 November.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator, Mike Roberts, said the Orion would depart New Zealand at 7am (NZDT) tomorrow and search an extended area alongside where a specially outfitted Piper Chieftain search aircraft has spent today searching for the ship. 

The Orion is fitted with specialist communication, radar, infared and optics equipment and has the ability to remain airborne for up to 14 hours.

Mr Roberts said the Piper aircraft had spent from midday today searching for the Alvei, along the ship’s intended route between Opua (Northland) and Norfolk Island. It had used a combination of visual searching, radar and VHF communications in the search.

He said the piper’s crew would continue searching until around 9.30pm today (NZDT) and then spend the night in Norfolk Island. They would then resume searching tomorrow morning while en route back to New Zealand. 

In the meantime, New Zealand maritime radio has been broadcasting two-hourly radio calls in an attempt to make contact with the Alvei. Search and rescue agencies in Australia and New Caledonia are also assisting search efforts and have alerted ships and aircraft in their regions to keep an eye out to for the ship.

The 92 foot steel-hulled sailing ship left Port Vila, Vanuatu, on 13 November with nine people on board.  The crew/passengers are believed to be aged between 27 and 66 years of age and are made up of three Americans, four Australians, one Kiwi and one Englishman.

RCCNZ immediately asked maritime radio to broadcast radio calls within New Zealand’s search and rescue region for information. There has been no response from Alvei or sightings reported. Weather conditions have been moderate, with a low pressure system currently to the north of New Zealand. Easterly Winds of 35 to 40 knots with showers are forecast.

Alvei is believed to be fitted with a VHF and HF Radio as well as a distress beacon. The beacon has not been activated.

“The vessel is not known to keep regular scheduled radio communications, but there is enough cause for concern to begin a search to determine her status,” Mr Roberts said.

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