Parents of missing sailor seek help from US officials

Matt Wootton on the beach in New Zealand.
Matt Wootton on the beach in New Zealand.

The parents of a Lancaster man missing at sea have claimed the lives of their son and his sailing colleagues were put at risk by US officials.

Matthew Wootton, 35, is missing, feared drowned at sea in the Pacific Ocean after the schooner he was sailing on went missing in June.

As part of a statement made jointly with the families of other Nina crew members, Sue and Ian Wootton said: “We are shocked and saddened to be faced with a completely uncooperative behavior in this very urgent matter by the most respected institutions of this country, and we want to appeal to all authorities and the American public for a fair and immediate action.

“In the absence of prompt and effective action, seven lives will be sacrificed while it could have been prevented; and this would make the Nina case the worst non-commercial maritime disaster in history with regard to the number of lives lost.”

The American schooner Nina, with its crew of Matt and six Americans, was reported missing in the Tasman Sea on its route from Opua (New Zealand) to Newcastle (Australia).

Its last known communication with land was on June 4, which indicated stormy conditions.

However, with the recovery of a non-delivered text message sent through the satellite phone afterwards, it was later revealed that they had survived the storm of the previous night, but sustained severe damage to their storm sails and were proceeding with ‘bare poles’ on a stated course.

That last text message was only revealed a month after Nina’s last communication, due to strict US privacy laws, and the critical information it contains has changed the whole paradigm of what might have happened, and how to best direct the search efforts.

Since that last message was not delivered to the intended recipient, no one knew for weeks that something was wrong with the Nina.

After the Nina failed to arrive in Australia in mid-June as planned, a ‘communications search’ only was carried out by the RCCNZ (Rescue Coordination Center New Zealand).

A full search and rescue operation was not started until June 25, three weeks after the communications breakdown, yet it was suspended 12 days later after failing to find anything.

No evidence of the vessel and crew, its life raft, wreckage or flotsam, nor any other evidence that would indicate sinking was encountered.

When search was officially suspended by the New Zealand authorities, it was ruled, without any evidence, that the Nina must have suffered a “catastrophic event” in the continuing strong storm, and sunk immediately without being able to give a distress signal or abandon ship.

After New Zealand suspended the search, the families that represent Nina’s crew partnered up with Texas EquuSearch (TES), a non-profit volunteer organisation that specializes in finding missing persons on land and at sea.

TES’s professional analysis of the case also indicated that the Nina probably had an electrical failure, lost its sails, as revealed in the non-delivered text message, possibly dismasted, but that it should be intact and floating in the renowned circular currents of the Tasman Sea, waiting for rescue.

Throughout the search efforts, the families and TES have been trying to reach out to the US authorities, as six of the seven crew members are American citizens.

The families now want cooperation from the US Government, Coastguard and Military, as well as other state or national authorities that have the resources to aid in the search efforts.

“While there is absolutely no evidence that the Nina has faced a ‘catastrophic event’ and sank, this has been accepted as the case by all US authorities without any further inquiry or research,” a statement from the families says.

“Due to the scarcity of actual facts and data, it is impossible to calculate the odds of each possible scenario; however, an evidence-free sudden sinking is just one of the many possible scenarios, most of which involve survivors.”