Anti-piracy force sent in to search for yacht

2012-04-16 00:00

A SOUTH African yacht with seven people on board — including two locals — has gone missing while on a cruise between Mayotte Island in the Indian Ocean and Pemba in northern Mozambique.

The European Union’s anti-piracy force in Djibouti sent an aircraft to search for the missing yacht yesterday, and all ships in the area have been alerted to be on the lookout for it.

The captain of the yacht is a South African, John Sergel, of Durban. His co-skipper is a French woman, Izabella Moallic.

With them on the pleasure cruise are an American, Gianvieve Mancuso, and her German husband, Alexander Weyhe, a Briton, Jason Morenikeji, Frank Joubert, a South African, and Dutchman Jasper van Straaten.

Roger Hartley, the owner of the yacht, told Beeld yesterday that the passengers’ home countries have all joined the search.

Hartley said fears that something might have gone wrong started surfacing after communication from the yacht stopped on Tuesday evening.

The yacht was signed out as seaworthy and ready for the cruise on Tuesday at 3 pm by the harbour captain in Dzaoudzi on Mayotte.

The party notified the harbour authorities at 6 pm that they had reached the open sea, and then left the harbour’s radio control area.

That was the last time anyone heard from them.

On Tuesday Van Straaten said on his facebook page that problems with two broken starter motors had delayed their departure from Mayotte. These problems had apparently been resolved by Wednesday.

The cruise of about 550 km meant they should have arrived in Pemba by Friday, but by yesterday there was still no sign of them.

According to Hartley the yacht has an emergency beacon on board that would have sent out a distress signal if the yacht had met with an accident at sea.

“No one received any distress signal or distress call from the crew. While fears that they may have fallen victim to pirates are probably valid, we are currently investigating every possibility, including that they might have drifted off course,” Hartley said.

Concerned relatives raised the alarm on Saturday when they could not contact Sergel, an experienced sailor from Durban, to congratulate him on his birthday.

Elizabeth Kennedy-Trudeau, spokesperson for the American embassy in Pretoria, said that the embassy was in touch with the other countries who have citizens on board the missing yacht.

According to the South African Navy, which has been operating anti-piracy patrols in the Mozambique Channel for over a year, the navy’s replenishment vessel, the SAS Drakensberg, is currently sailing between Pemba and Dar es Salaam and therefore far from the route taken by the yacht.

Sergel uses the yacht, the Dandelion, for adventure and diving cruises. The party earlier sailed from Pemba to Mayotte.

The passengers all work in Pemba, a growing tourism mecca in Mozambique.

Morenikeji works for a non-governmental organisation and Joubert for an oil company. Mancuso and Weyhe are developing a holiday resort.

Van Straaten, who runs car rental and shipping businesses, has lived in Pemba with his two brothers for more than 10 years.

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