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22 September 2005, 10:32 am
The Moquini Mystery
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Mauritius To Durban Yacht Race 2005

As the end of the Mauritius to Durban yacht race draws to a close, there's a very sombre mood at the Royal Natal Yacht Club in South African as family and friends of the missing yacht Moquini wait anxiously for news of their loved ones.

Moquini was declared missing last Friday 16 September after complete communications were lost with the yacht, and a very brief signal from her EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) was received indicating that she may be in some sort of distress.

The Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) in Cape Town assessed the situation last Friday morning and decided to begin a search for the vessel, or the crew of the yacht who may have taken to their life raft. A South African Air force C130 long range reconnaissance aircraft was dispatched from Pretoria on Friday afternoon, and has been combing the area around the last known position of the yacht since then.

The race organizers are fully aware that the Maritime search and rescue authorities cannot search forever, and on Tuesday gathered a group of yachtsmen to strategize and come up with a 'battle plan' for the continued search of the Moquini crew.

Professional yachtsman Matthew THOMAS, himself a competitor in the race aboard Polo Sport Gumption, has agreed to head this challenging task, and within hours of meeting, the assistance and support of people throughout the country and around the world has been phenomenal.

Air Charter companies have offered airplanes, fuel has been offered, and basically anyone who has expertise, knowledge or equipment needed have made very generous offers of assistance.

Actions that have been taken include the following:

  • Investec Bank has offered one of their airplanes for the search.
  • The 'Moquini' Rescue Fund has been launched through the Royal Natal Yacht Club to solicit funds to continue the search as long as possible.
  • The MRCC has agreed to continue the search as long as possible, although they will re-evaluate it every day.
  • The South African Weather Service is giving input.
  • The South African Navy has a vessel in the area, and it is hoped that they will join the search.
  • The South African Air force will continue to man their C130 aircraft.
  • The Royal navy and French navy have both offered assistance.

'It's at times like these when the chips are down that one is continually amazed at how responsive, generous and concerned mankind really is' said THOMAS.

A team of yachting experts spent the day working with a sophisticated sailing routing computer programme to determine a possible position of Moquini's liferaft should her crew have had to abandon ship and take to the life raft. This area is further west of the area, which has already been searched, and south west of the bottom tip of Madagascar. This programme, which takes the prevailing currents, sea conditions and wind into account in real time, is used aboard all the top racing yachts in the world.

'We sincerely hope that this exercise will bring the results we, and the Moquini families, are waiting for,' said THOMAS. 'But, we are searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.'

Should the crew have taken to the life raft, it is estimated that they could have enough water to survive for more than 20 days - and that is assuming that they do not collect any rain water. While not comfortable, yachtsmen have survived for well over 100 days in a life raft.

How and why Moquini's EPIRB was activated, and transmitted for such a short time, is a mystery to everyone, and is a question which cannot be answered at this point.

Moquini is a modern yacht which was only launched earlier this year, and was equipped with all the most up-to-date safety and survival equipment required for a race of this nature. Her crew have everything they require to survive just about any situation thrown at them at sea.

Her designer is Cape Town based Alex SIMONIS who competed in the race aboard Unleashed, a new boat from his drawing board. Moquini is one of four identical yachts in the race, and is known as a Fast 42. She was built at the Fast yachts factory in Pinetown, Durban.

The crew of six are:

  • Graham COCHRANE - skipper
  • Sheldon DICKERSON
  • Michael GOOLAM

The latest news of the search for Moquini is that a private charter flight will take off later today for Madagascar. Once there she will re-fuel before commencing a beach search along the largely uninhabited southern shore.

This 300 mile stretch of coastline is the nearest land to 'Moquini's' last reported position. The rescue committee have surmised that in the event of a serious problem on board Moquini the crew may have elected to head for the nearest shore and it is this area that they are now going to search.

Andrew Heathcote. Image, Moquini:© Event Media
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