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Mysteriously Vanished Tuna Fishing Boat Sparks Major Search

An RNZAF Orion is searching 14,400 square kilometers of Pacific Ocean near Samoa for a Wanganui-built tuna fishing boat, a week after it vanished with six people aboard.

It is the third day of searching by Orions for the 14 meter long tuna long-liner Kathryn J, whose last known position was 70 kilometers north of the Samoan island of Savai’i.

Apia Export Fish Packers Ltd operations manager Ted Watts told Stuff the boat has been missing for a week.

“It’s not looking good, it’s a real mystery.” he said from Samoa.

“There is no sign of any rubbish. If the boat had sunk you would expect to see something floating and those air force boys are pretty good at picking that up.”

Kathryn J had 5000 liters of fuel aboard and Mr. Watts, a New Zealander, said they would have expected a slick had it sunk.

“The weather has been absolutely marvelous… over the last four or five days it has been flat calm, no wind, no nothing.”

The Samoan skipper of Kathryn J was in radio contact last Tuesday at midnight (Wednesday, NZT) when he spoke to another boat in the fleet.

“He said he would call in the morning and there has been nothing since.”

The skipper is known to maintain regular radio schedules.

Six other fishing boats and the Samoan Police patrol boat have been searching since last Wednesday and the first of two Orions arrived over the weekend.

Mr. Watt said the whole thing was shaping up as “shades of the Joyita” - a reference to one of the region’s enduring maritime mysteries.

The 21-meter Joyita sailed out of Apia on October 3, 1955, for Tokelau with 25 people aboard. It never made the 430 kilometer voyage.

An RNZAF search covering over 260,000 square kilometres failed to find anything but on November 10, five weeks later, Joyita was found partly submerged and listing – but afloat. There was no sign of its crew or passengers and nothing since has ever explained what happened.

Kathryn J has gone missing in the same area of last known contact with Joyita.

Last November the RNZAF Orions spent days unsuccessfully searching for 29 fishermen after the Taiwan long-liner Ta Ching 21 was found burnt out off Kiribati.