80 days at sea: global search for missing SA yachtsmen


The families of three yachtsmen, aboard the missing catamaran Sunsail, somewhere in the Indian Ocean, are desperately trying to establish their whereabouts.

Anthony Murray, Reg Robertson and Jaryd Payne are in need of rescuing. These are the words of the worried families of the trio who has been at sea for 79 days.

The yachtsmen only carried enough food supplies for 65 days, which was February 26, after setting sail on December 14 from Cape Town harbour to deliver a catamaran, Sunsail RC044-978 to Phuket in Thailand.

The delivery was on behalf of Tui Marine, a maritime leisure business based in Florida in the USA, which has representatives in Cape Town.

However, the trip has caused alarm, with families fearing that the men are in dire need of help after a sudden lost in communication more than a month ago.

Read: Is it physically possible to survive a year adrift at sea?

“The concern for an overdue boat has now turned into real fear”, the families said in a statement.

The last communication from the yacht on the satellite phone was on January 18. The yacht's co-ordinates at the time showed that it was approximately 2190mi NNW of Perth, Australia, with the estimated arrival date in Phuket on February 2.

Skipper Murray, 58, has over 25 years' experience at sea, including multiple international catamaran and yacht deliveries. Robertson, 59, is also an experienced yachtsman and a member of the Royal Natal Yacht Club. Payne is just 20 years old and he is from Cape Town.

'Your wonderful son'

This was Payne's first long trip, according to the Mercury who spoke to his mother, Lisa Green. She said Payne sent her a message on January 15 saying the weather was posing a challenge. "He ended the text by saying 'your wonderful son'".

Robertson also mentioned the bad weather in a message on January 15. His message read: "very bad weather, could hit a cyclone."

The yacht is presumed to have been in the vicinity of Tropical Cyclone Bansi, which explosively intensified into a Category 5 cyclone on January 13.

Murray sailed southward to avoid the cyclone, reported IOL. "Although the yacht did move south away from the cyclone, we have no confirmation that the catamaran was not damaged as a result of this," the families said.

The yacht's Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) had not been activated and search and rescue will only be activated if a signal is detected.

Tui Marine is reported to already initiate a satellite facilitated online search party, reported Berea Mail online.

"We believe that there is a huge group of friends and family of Anthony, Reg and Jaryd as well as the sailing community worldwide who could assist in using satellite images to locate this catamaran," Murray's sister-in-law, Diane Coetzer Coetzer said.

"The family has been assisted Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) in Cape Town as well as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) with both agencies doing everything possible to locate the vessel," she said.

"The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has informed the families that it responds to circumstances as they present themselves and that officers in its Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre are not constrained by the setting off of the EPIRB only," the families said in a statement.

Urgent broadcast to shipping

They noted that AMSA further stated that the urgent broadcast to shipping will remain until March 31, when it will be re-evaluated.

SA Maritime Safety Authority's (SAMSA) MRCC spokesperson Jared Blows said the organisation was supporting its Australian counterpart's efforts to locate the yacht.

"The family is in contact with this office and we are giving as much information to them as we have and receive from RCC Australia.

"We have also initiated Navarea Seven urgency broadcast in an effort to make as many ships [as possible] aware of our need to locate the missing yacht," Blows said.

The search for  the Moquini

The family has also enlisted the help of Cape Town yachtsman Matthew Thomas, who helped in the search for the Moquini, a yacht that went missing during the 2005 Mauritius to Durban yacht race.

Thomas is advising the family, said Coetzer, and he believes the men could still be alive. He said the men could be anywhere in the Indian Ocean, reported the Mercury.

However, Thomas added that until they know the whereabouts, dispatching a helicopter to search for them will be difficult to do.

The family is raising awareness of the yachts’ missing status and have appealed for any support to help locate three men. They also started a page on Facebook titled Searching for Anthony Reg and Jaryd.

Coetzer told Health24 on Tuesday that no new information on the trio has come to light*.

Help find the missing sailors

The public can help search for a missing South African catamaran crew through an online tool, their families said on Wednesday.

The families fear for the yachtsmen's safety, as they last made contact via satellite phone on January 18 and missed their estimated date of arrival.

"The current 'Lost Catamaran & Crew At Sea' enables people all over the world to search satellite images that are loaded by Tomnod for this specific campaign," the families said in a joint statement.

The aim of the campaign is to search for the Leopard 44 catamaran that was being delivered to Phuket, Thailand, by Anthony Murray, Reg Robertson and Jaryd Payne.

On the Tomnod website, www.tomnod.com, people are asked to tag objects as either ship or boat, life raft or "other" in images. Tomnod is run by commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe and anyone with access to a computer and the internet can join the online search party.

The crowd sourcing theory operates on the belief that untrained observers who pick the same target can be as accurate as an expert.

*Health24 is following the story closely and we will bring you updates as we receive them. 

Read more:

10000 shipping containers lost overboard each year
Is it physically possible to survive a year adrift at sea?
16 months adrift in Pacific: 7 greatest dangers

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