Dramatic rescue from flaming yacht

Two New Zealand sailors and their Mexican skipper have been rescued from a liferaft 280km south of Niue after their yacht caught fire just after midnight on 24 June 2015.

The United States registered yacht 15m SV Sunny Deck was travelling from Rarotonga to Tonga when a fire in the engine compartment engulfed the yacht.

The 36-year-old skipper was on watch, and the two other sailors – both from Hamilton, aged 67 and 70 – were asleep at the time. The crew had no time to dress or grab any equipment before abandoning the vessel to a liferaft but the skipper managed to reach the EPIRB – fire had already melted the lanyard attaching it to the vessel.

As the EPIRB was German registered the alert was received by the Marine Rescue Coordination Centre in Bremen, which contacted the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand with owner’s details.

RCCNZ identified ships nearby and the Liberian-flagged container ship MV Cap Capricorn was the closest at just over 38km and was requested to divert and provide assistance.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Dave Wilson said the ship arrived just after 3am.

“When they arrived on scene they saw the glow from the burning yacht and blasted their whistle to attract the attention of any survivors. After around 30 minutes of searching they saw a distress flare fired in response. The liferaft was located and the ship manoeuvred alongside. The three sailors were able to board the ship via the pilot ladder. First aid was provided on board but we understand there are no serious injuries.”

Mr Wilson said conditions in the area were not easy, with waves of around 3.5m high and winds of 45km/h. The yacht’s crew were safely on board the MV Cap Capricorn by around 5.15am.

“It was an excellent piece of seamanship to bring a 228m ship alongside a liferaft in these condition. We’d like to express our appreciation to the Master and the crew of the MV Cap Capricorn for their efforts,” he said.

“The crew of the yacht were also well prepared – they had a registered EPIRB, which enabled them to be identified quickly, their liferaft was in good condition, and they had a distress flare to respond when the ship arrived. In the circumstances it was an excellent result.”

MV Cap Capricorn is en route to Auckland and is due to arrive on 27 June.