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Overturned South African yacht examined for clues on missing sailors

Jan 1, 2003

The fates of six South African sailors taking part in the 2005 Mauritius to Durban race who were lost at sea may be determined this coming month as salvors examine the wreck of the vessel.

The overturned hull - its rudder and sail drive unit still intact but its keel sheered - was found adrift in the Indian Ocean in January, some 500 miles off South Africa's Wild Coast, four months after its crew was reported missing.

After a stopover in Madagascar, a brief emergency signal from the vessel was received on Sept. 16, 2005, but no further communications followed. The vessel, Moquini, named for a long-legged, endangered South African shorebird (also called an African oystercatcher), was also stripped of its mast, which was later found with its South African flag still attached in late February by a fishing vessel. A report of the derelict vessel by the tanker Algarve was radioed to South Africa's Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), which immediately dispatched the tug Smit Amandla.

No bodies were found by salvors, who towed the vessel to Durban in mid-February for a survey. The keel appeared to have been completely sheered from its bolts, but the hull was otherwise largely undamaged, allowing inspectors to surmise that the capsize occurred very quickly, likely in less than a minute. "There would have been little or no time for the crew to do anything," said Matthew Thomas, the initial rescue coordinator, in an interview with the Natal newspaper The Mercury. "Anyone on deck would have been flung into the water. Anyone down below would have had little time to evacuate."

Meanwhile, the vessel's designer, Alex Simonis, a Dutchman based in Cape Town, has halted production of the boat, a Fast 42, in the South African yard where Moquini was built, until further inquiry into the loss has been initiated, according to South African press reports. "It is possible that the builder deviated from my original design and, though in 12 years there have never been any structural problems with the design, I have to keep the option open that there is something wrong with it," Simonis said. The designer did not suggest the yard was negligent, according to reports, just that caution dictates an examination of all details of construction. Twenty five such vessels have been built by Fast Yachts of Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, with no problems reported by owners.

Moquini arrived in Durban on Feb. 16, where it was to be flipped right-side up, refloated and hauled out for a full survey.


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