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Cruise ship assists stranded sailors

The P&O Pacific Sun cruise ship got more than it bargained for when it had to change course on its way back to Brisbane, Australia, from the island republic of Vanuatu to rescue a crew whose boat was sinking, according to a report from the New Zealand Press Association.

The crew of the 46-foot New Zealand cutter-rigged sloop Sambaluka set off their distress beacon at 3 a.m. Nov. 20 shortly after they ran aground on Chesterfield Reef, about 500 nautical miles east of the Queensland City of Mackay, according to the report. The Pacific Sun responded to the crew, who consisted of co-owners American Mark Iaconetti and New Zealander Rob Cole, and two French crewmembers that were not identified. The estimated price of the yacht, reportedly made from solid teak, was $300,000 and had been Iaconetti’s home for five years, according to the report.

Iaconetti says they were sailing in a 12- to 15-knot breeze making about five or six knots before they hit. Their single sideband radio and VHF radio continued to work even as the engine room flooded, allowing them to communicate with the French military aircraft that departed from Noumea and dropped a 15-man life raft in the water until the Pacific Sun, which was en route, arrived, according to the report. However, the conditions were too rough for the crew to reach it. Fortunately, the crew was able to stabilize the boat on the reef for a few hours before the cruise ship arrived that afternoon.

“The boat was just sinking and sinking and finally the water was up to the level of the table and we were at an angle,” says Iaconetti in the report. “We raised the sail halfway, thinking maybe that would help push us up onto the reef and we wouldn’t sink so fast. That seemed to work and the water seemed to stay level for a couple of hours.”

The boat was only insured for half of its overall value and Iaconetti says it was incredibly emotional to watch his home disappear beneath the waves. The Pacific Sun docked at Brisbane early the following day.

— Elizabeth Ellis