Friday, October 10, 2008

Ghost Ship Mystery Solved

A "ghost ship" floating around the Pacific Ocean has been identified as a Nelson vessel that was abandoned after its crew mutinied eight months ago. The 7.9m yacht was discovered south of Norfolk Island by French Navy patrol ship La Moqueuse on a trip from Noumea to Nelson last week. Its captain, Lieutenant Laurent Saunois, said the yacht was like a "ghost ship". "When we found it, we called out, but nobody came. You always get a strange sensation when you find a boat like that, like something bad has happened," Lieutenant Saunois said. On March 25, Air Apparent was travelling from Auckland to Nelson, going around Cape Reinga, when it hit 3m waves and 25 to 30-knot winds. The captain, Bill Heritage, did not consider these conditions life-threatening but his three crew disagreed and set off the emergency locator beacon 165km west of Kaipara Harbour. Mr Heritage and the crew were airlifted from the yacht, which he had owned for 15 years, by Northland Emergency Services Trust helicopter and taken to Auckland."We were sailing very conservatively and we had an ideal wind direction. There was high winds but that is not dangerous. "I was sleeping when they woke me up and told me they were going to set off the beacon. I didn't know what they were talking about," Mr Heritage said. Mr Heritage initially put in an insurance claim with AMP New Zealand but was declined. After receiving some pressure from an Australian insurance company that said it would cover such an incident, AMP ruled that a mutinous crew was not reasonably foreseen. AMP then granted Mr Heritage a claim for $23,000, though he had initially claimed $24,000. "I think we all came to a conclusion which was amicable for both sides," Mr Heritage said. Air Apparent is now the property of Vero, the company that underwrites AMP general insurance policies. A spokesman for Vero said it had approached the French Embassy in New Caledonia and contacts in Norfolk Island to see if they could help coordinate a salvage or sinking mission.Mr Heritage said that after the yacht drama happened, he spent almost two weeks exploring salvage options. "A tug costs almost $7000 a day for three days to get out there, and the cost to send an aircraft to look for it. It wasn't worth it for a small boat." At the time, he asked his crew members to cover the cost but subsequently dropped the request. One of the crew members, Carl Horn, was a friend of 26 years to Mr Heritage. Mr Heritage said he had sent an email to him asking for a resolution but had not received a reply. Maritime New Zealand spokesman Ross Henderson said the boat was still within New Zealand's search and rescue region but not within its territorial waters, which meant NZ had no legal jurisdiction over it. "The only thing we can really do is give people a warning that it is out there and, obviously, we would do that," he said. Mr Heritage had owned Air Apparent for 15 years and was an experienced sailor, but his crew had little or no experience. "I didn't rally them. Another skipper might have done better," he said.

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