Search suspended for man overboard

17 September 2010, 10:00am

The search has been suspended for a crewman missing from a merchant ship north-west of New Zealand, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) says.

RCCNZ was alerted by maritime radio and mayday broadcasts late yesterday afternoon that a man was believed to have fallen overboard from the Korean-owned bulk carrier TPC Napier, 230 nautical miles (425 kilometres) northwest of Cape Reinga.

The man, a foreign national, was identified as missing at about 5.30pm. He had changed into overalls and work boots to carry out maintenance, and was not wearing a lifejacket.

The vessel, which was en route from Malaysia to Tauranga, turned around and returned to the area where the man was believed to have fallen into the water an hour and a quarter earlier. By then, darkness had fallen and wind and sea conditions were very rough, with swells of between 3 and 4 metres. The location was too far offshore to send a helicopter, and the combination of insufficient light and sea conditions would have prevented a fixed wing aircraft from locating a person in the water.

RCCNZ broadcast requests via maritime radio for assistance from vessels in the area. The tanker Bunga Kelana Dua arrived at the scene at about 1am, but was released to resume its journey at 2.30am.

Search and Rescue Officer Dave Wilson said RCCNZ used computer modelling overnight to provide the TPC Napier with a search plan for the area. The ship’s master has just advised RCCNZ that after searching for two hours for the missing man this morning, the vessel is now continuing its journey to Tauranga.

After considering all the survival factors, including sea temperature (16 degrees Celsius) and weather/sea conditions, the maximum survival time was assessed to be seven hours. As nearly 17 hours had now passed since the crewman was believed to have fallen overboard, RCCNZ has decided that further searching would have no likelihood of success.

Mr Wilson said the distance offshore would allow an aircraft only 90 minutes of flying time once it arrived on scene. “The search area RCCNZ has identified covers a minimum of 80 square miles – and that’s only if the exact location where the man went overboard was known, which it’s not.”

As well, Mr Wilson says the seas are very rough, and conditions are expected to worsen.

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