Major search-and-rescue underway to locate sinking yacht, 'serious concerns' for safety of those onboard

Stock image of a Coastguard boat.
Stock image of a Coastguard boat. Photo credit: File

A major search-and-rescue operation is underway to locate a missing yacht, with serious concerns for the safety of the two people onboard.

Maritime radio received a mayday call from the sinking yacht at around 6:30pm on Wednesday, Maritime New Zealand confirmed in a statement.

Two rescue helicopters, a Coastguard boat and the Royal New Zealand Navy's HMNZS Te Kaha were deployed on Wednesday night and are continuing the search on Thursday. 

"The Coastguard vessel was out on the water for several hours but was forced to turn back due to the weather and large swells. The Te Kaha continued its search overnight," Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) search-and-rescue officer Tracy Brickles said in an update on Thursday morning.

The yacht's distress call signalled it was near Waiheke, however an initial search of the area on Wednesday night failed to locate the missing vessel. 

Brickles said search-and-rescue agencies now believe the yacht had given incorrect coordinates and had instead been located east of the Coromandel - based on the location of a nearby cargo vessel the yacht was trying to contact, and the location of the radio site that received the distress call.

In Thursday's update, Maritime New Zealand confirmed that although the vessel's coordinates indicated it was near Waiheke, verbally the yacht's location was given as 'east of Coromandel'.

"Due to the VHF [very high frequency] sites that received the transmissions it is believed to be east of the Coromandel Peninsula," it said.

The Te Kaha is now searching east of the Coromandel near Great Mercury Island. The coast of Pauanui, as well as the original location, were searched last night.

"We understand that two people are on board the yacht but we have no further information about the yacht, or what may have caused it to take on water, at this time," Brickles said.

"We have serious concerns for the safety of those on board."

The search operation is ongoing and RCCNZ will assess its next steps later on Thursday. A mayday relay is continuing to be broadcast to all vessels in the area.

Anyone with information or possible sightings is urged to contact Police immediately by calling 111.