Seven feared dead after New Zealand boat collapse

A SCHOONER carrying seven people is now believed to have sunk between New Zealand and Australia.

Matthew Wootton, missing environmentalist. Picture: Contributed
Matthew Wootton, missing environmentalist. Picture: Contributed
Matthew Wootton, missing environmentalist. Picture: Contributed

Seven people, including a 35-year-old British man, were travelling on board the 70-foot boat.

No word has been heard from the ship for more than three weeks, Maritime New Zealand said.

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Rescue crews now believe the vessel, called Nina, sank but have not given up hope of finding survivors.

Officials yesterday named the missing British man as Matthew Wootton, from Lancaster. He was travelling with six Americans aged between 17 and 73.

Wootton, who was born in London, had worked for a communications company in Lancaster before starting a round-the-world trip at the start of 2010.

He had been travelling ever since, mostly across North and South America and more recently in New Zealand, his sister Lara Inwood said yesterday.

The 75-year-old wooden vessel left Opua on New’s Zealand’s North Island on 29 May.

When last heard from six days later, she was about 370 nautical miles west-north-west of the country’s most northerly point.

The six Americans on board included 58-year-old captain David Dyche, reported to be an experienced sailor, and his wife Rosemary, 60, and their son David, 17.

Their friend Evi Nemeth, 73, was also travelling with them along with a 28-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman.

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Search leader Neville Blakemore, from New Zealand’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCCNZ) said it is now logical to assume that the boat sank in a storm.

But he said it is possible some crew members survived either in the life raft or by making land.

RCCNZ has told how the last known communications with the crew were on 3 and 4 June – when conditions were very rough, with winds of 80km/h (50mph) gusting to 110 km/h and swells of up to 8m (26 feet).

The New Zealand authorities started attempting to make communications contact with the boat on 14 June after being alerted by the families of those on board, also alerting other ships in the area to look out for her.

New Zealand Air Force Orion P3 search aircraft have scoured the area without success.

The RCCNZ said the ship was equipped with a satellite phone, a spot device which allows regular tracking signals to be sent manually, and an emergency beacon.

The emergency beacon has not been activated, it said.

Last night Wootton’s sister told how she last saw her brother before he embarked on the trip.

Inwood said: “He is very environmentally aware and so has been travelling by boat and public transport. He has been staying with local people in all the places he’s been and is interested in learning about different cultures.

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“I believe he was travelling to Australia from New Zealand to spend a few months there before coming back home.”

Wootton graduated from University College Northampton graduate and had worked for the Green Party between 2003 and 2005.

David Murray, chief executive of the Green Party, said Wootton had been a member of the Green Party for ten years.