Air Force Orion locates missing fishing boat

An Air Force Orion and its seven crew left Auckland this morning to look for the vessel.
01.03.05 12.30pm
A Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion has located a fishing vessel missing in an area of the Pacific Ocean ravaged by Cyclone Percy, finding the crew safe and well.

The Orion flew to the area this morning after a distress beacon alert was received by Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) yesterday afternoon.

The missing American Samoan vessel was believed to be 700km northwest of Samoa.

RCCNZ spokeswoman Heidi Brook told NZPA the vessel -- a fishing boat named Breanna Lynn -- had been found, with all seven people on board safe and well.

The vessel itself was in a pretty bad state, she said.

"She has got no power or working engine, " Ms Brook said.

"When she was in the cyclone area and the weather conditions were pretty bad she had all her windows blown in, but the crew had managed to board them up and pump out most of the water," she said.

"But I imagine they would have been pretty relieved by the time the Orion found them -- they had no means of communicating that they were in trouble so they were basically just floating, hoping that somebody was going to come."

RCCNZ mission co-ordinator Neville Blakemore said yesterday the weather conditions would have been atrocious with a wind speed of up to 100km/h and a sea swell of up to 10m

' 'Ironically, 11 days ago the missing fishing boat helped other vessels during the extensive search and rescue effort required when cyclones Olaf and Nancy hit," Mr Blakemore said.

Widespread damage was reported on the northern Cook Islands of Pukapuka and Nassau after Cyclone Percy slammed into the area.

On Pukapuka, with a population of 600, only 10 houses weathered the storm intact, the Australian-Pacific Centre for Emergency and Disaster Information (APCEDI) said.

One person previously unaccounted for had now been located.

On the neighbouring island of Nassau "all the homes are reportedly severely damaged or destroyed", although the 70 residents were safe after being evacuated to two main churches which serve as cyclone shelters.

Meanwhile, Percy continued to weaken as it turned south, taking the storm away from the populated islands of the Northern Cooks.

Over the weekend, Percy struck the three atolls of New Zealand-administered Tokelau.

The Government has approved spending of up to $500,000 for relief supplies and the Tokelauan community was launching its own appeal to assist with cyclone recovery.

Meanwhile, in Raratonga, despite the recent cyclones tourist resorts are open for business, with about 95 per cent of hotel rooms ready and waiting for tourists.

"Although the cyclones caused substantial damage to tourist resorts in Rarotonga, in fact only 73 out of approximately 1400 rooms are still out of commission," said New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, Kurt Meyer.

"There is still ample accommodation for visitors. A reassessment of damage by resort operators has resulted in some impressive and rapid action plans to clean up quickly, minimise disruption to guests and avoid closure when possible."

Cook Islands tourism chief executive Chris Wong said the cyclones had had minimal affect on visitor numbers although some travellers had opted to reschedule travel dates and make alternative accommodation arrangements when necessary.

The Fiji Meteorological Service maintained a tropical cyclone alert for the southern Cooks including a strong wind warning for Palmerston, while authorities in Niue and American Samoa were urged to remain on alert should Percy make a southwesterly turn.

There has been no contact with American Samoa's Swain's Island since before it was hit by the storm on Saturday, and a US Coastguard plane which was to make a food and medical drop on the island developed mechanical problems and had to return to Honolulu.