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Iridium faulted in report on missing schooner

An independent review of the search for Niña, lost more than a year ago on the Tasman Sea with its seven crewmembers, found that the New Zealand rescue authority did all it should have done — and more — to try to find the 84-foot schooner.

The report goes on to say, however, that if satellite communications provider Iridium had delivered a June 4 text message from Niña to Kiwi meteorologist Bob McDavitt as the ship struggled in a vicious storm that likely overpowered her it might have alerted family and friends much earlier that Niña was in trouble.

The message, sent June 4, read, “Thanks storm sails shredded last night, now bare poles, going 4kt 310deg will update course info @ 6pm.”

That was the last transmission from Nina. “If this message had been delivered on the 4th June, issues of concern by the family and friends would have been raised earlier, particularly when no follow-up was received at 6 p.m. on that day,” writes the reviewer, David Baird, former general manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Emergency Response Division, in his report, which was released Thursday. “It is highly unlikely that they would have waited until 14th June to contact RCCNZ.”

Baird also takes Iridium to task for not releasing to rescue authorities the contents of that message — and position information on six earlier transmissions — until June 29, two weeks after authorities first requested it.

Iridium can turn over the location from which a text message was sent at the request of a search-and-rescue agency but is constrained by privacy laws from releasing the content of the message without a court order or formal request from a federal agency, Iridium spokeswoman Diane Hockenberry said. The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand had to ask the U.S. State Department to request the information, and when the department did that, Iridium responded promptly, she said. She also said Iridium did not “lose” the text message to the meteorologist. The address on it was incomplete and could not be delivered.

Baird recommends that the New Zealand rescue center reach memoranda of understanding with Iridium and other communications service providers allowing for timely release of data that would aid search-and-rescue operations.

Hockenberry agreed that a memorandum of understanding with Iridium could facilitate release of information in situations where it could save lives.

Baird concludes that New Zealand’s rescue authority complied with its own standard operating procedures and with international search-and-rescue conventions in carrying out the search.

“RCCNZ went further in effort, resource allocation, consultation and duration than many of the other highly regarded SAR authorities would have done,” he writes. “This is particularly so when considering the effort made by RCCNZ to cooperate and assist the private search carried out by the families and their search coordinator.”

When last heard from, Niña, an historic racing boat and former New York Yacht Club flagship, was 370 miles west-northwest of Cape Reinga, the northwesternmost tip of North Island, New Zealand. Aboard were Niña’s owner of 25 years, David A. Dyche III, 58, a professional mariner; his 60-year-old wife, Rosemary; their son David, 17; Americans Kyle Jackson, 27, Evi Nemeth, 73, and Danielle Wright, 19; and British citizen Matthew Wootton, 35.

Click here for the full independent review.