/ 1 March 2011

Search for missing yacht in Antarctic called off

The search for a Norwegian sailboat that has been missing in the Antarctic for a week following a massive storm was called off on Tuesday, Norwegian authorities said, adding the three missing crew members were presumed dead.

“We and the New Zealand rescue services halted the search this morning [Tuesday],” said Sten-Rune Nikolaisen of the rescue centre in Bodoe in northern Norway.

“We believe the three crew members who remained onboard have perished,” he said.

The Berserk, a 14m sailboat, has been missing since it sent out a distress signal late on February 22 from the Ross Sea amid a massive storm, described as the worst in two decades, packing winds of up to 180km/h.

Two of the five crew members, Jarle Andhoy and Samuel Massie, had been journeying by quad bike across Antarctica on their way to the South Pole when the tempest struck the boat and were on Monday airlifted to New Zealand.

The three crew members who remained onboard — Norwegians Tom Gisle Bellika (36) and Robert Skaanes (34), and 32-year-old Leonard Banks, a dual South African and British citizen, have not been found.

Only an empty and damaged lifeboat has been found, according to New Zealand rescue workers.

Andhoy, the leader of the expedition, has been harshly criticised for carrying out the mission in the inhospitable area without necessary authorisation. — Sapa-AFP