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Search off Scarborough after crewless yacht runs aground

by The Guardian and Sail-World on 17 May 2017
Don’t Panic is towed by a lifeboat after it was found off Scarborough’s West Pier. Dave Barry/RNLI/PA
Emergency services are scouring the coastline around Scarborough in north-east England after a yacht with no crew ran aground near the town early on Tuesday 16 May. The yacht, named Don’t Panic and with two on board, left Scarborough around 5.30pm Monday evening. A local fishing crew reported seeing the boat aground off the West Pier some 11 hours later.

Almost a year ago, the same vessel prompted a warning to fellow sailors over its lack of radio and safety equipment after its skipper telephoned for help over engine failure. Lifeboat services have criticised as “irresponsible and thoughtless” owners of a yacht that was abandoned off the coast of Scarborough after it suffered mechanical failure. The boat, called Don’t Panic, left Scarborough on Monday evening and was spotted off the town’s west pier early on Tuesday morning with no sign of its crew, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

The MCA then launched an extensive sea and coast search involving lifeboats and a helicopter after attempts to contact the boat’s owner failed. The search was called off when one of the boat’s two crew members heard media appeals for their whereabouts and contacted the authorities, telling them they were safe.

John Senior, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Scarborough operations manager, said the operation had involved around 80 people and cost tens of thousands of pounds.

“We were delighted that there were no casualties and that they were found safe,” he said. “However, as a result of their irresponsibility and thoughtlessness, an awful lot of people were put at unneccessary risk this morning during the early hours when [we] mounted a complex search along the North Yorkshire coast.

“When we launch helicopters and lifeboats and coastguards on to the rocks it is always dangerous … Had the individuals involved made a couple of simple, thoughtful calls when they got in, instead of just dumping their boat on the rocks, all that could have been so easily avoided.”

An MCA spokesman said: “The search and rescue operation launched this morning after a yacht was reported run aground has ended. We are satisfied that the crew is not at sea but are unable to confirm that both have been spoken to. We always advise anyone who finds themselves in trouble at sea or at the coast calls 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”

In June last year, Don’t Panic also ran into difficulty off Scarborough when its engine failed. A lifeboat was called out and found the small boat a mile and a half east of the harbour after the skipper phoned 999. The RNLI said at the time the vessel was found with no lights, no VHF radio, no GPS, and no flares, prompting a warning to other sailors.

Dave Barry, a Scarborough RNLI volunteer, said it was imperative that any leisure craft putting out to sea should have a fully functional marine radio and a flare. “We always recommend that people have a means of sending out a distress call other than a mobile phone, which should only be used as a backup,” he said.

An MCA spokesman said the blue and white yacht had left Scarborough at around 5.30pm on Monday and its departure from the harbour had been captured on CCTV. He said that at 4.20am on Tuesday a fishing vessel crew reported to the coastguard that they had seen the yacht run aground off West Pier.

A spokesman for Scarborough RNLI said lifeboats were launched just before 6am. He said: “No one was on the yacht, which was boarded and towed back to the harbour by the Shannon all-weather lifeboat, which had a crew of five. The inshore lifeboat (ILB) and coastguards searched several miles of shoreline for the yacht crew, assisted by the coastguards’ Sikorsky search-and-rescue helicopter. The police were also involved in the search.”

The ILB searched the coast from Burniston in the north to Cayton Bay in the south, but nothing was found and it was stood down at 9.25am.

Senior said he thought it unlikely that the boat would be fit to sail again. “We haven’t seen her in low tide yet, but I suspect she is probably not salvageable,” he said. “She’s in a watery grave,” said Barry. “The mast is off and she looks beyond repair, but you’d never say never.”

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