Bodies and Debris Found in Border Waters After Mysterious Sinking of ‘Newport to Ensenda’ Sailboat

by on April 29, 2012 · 2 comments

in California, Media, Popular, San Diego, World News

Local Media Ignore Story – Is It Because of Mystery Ship Possibly Involved in Collision?

By JEC / Special to the OB Rag

A mystery is unfolding offshore from OB.

The 65th Newport to Ensenada sailboat race started in Newport on noon Friday, April 27. By 1 am early Saturday morning the bulk of the fleet of 200 sailboats had passed OB and were a few miles outside the Coronado Islands just south of the border. The race organizers, the Newport Ocean Sailing Association (NOSA) were tracking each boat using an online tracking system.

At 1:30 am Saturday morning, in calm seas and light winds, with miles of visibility, the image of the 37 foot sailboat the Aegean vanished from NOSA’s online race tracking system. The Coast Guard was immediately notified.

Bodies were first were found around 10 am. By Saturday afternoon three bodies have been found; a fourth is still missing. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter led Vessel Assist to two bodies and later retrieved another. As of today, Sunday, none of the bodies have been identified. A crew list has not been made available nor was it known how many other crew may have been on the boat, which is usually sailed by five or more persons.

The Aegean was smashed into pieces. Media reports say the boat was destroyed in an apparent collision with a large vessel several miles off the coast near the border.

Theo Mavromatis is the owner and skipper of the sailboat Aegean, a Hunter 376 representing the Little Ships Fleet club, but it was not known if he was one of the victims.

Official statements say only that an investigation was continuing, but it is apparent the damage was not inflicted by an explosion but by a collision with a ship much larger than the 37-foot vessel. The mystery is why here, in San Diego, there seems to be so little information available concerning a serious tragedy. No report in the Sunday U-T or the LA Times. These are the very first fatalities in the history of the race. But yet as of 2 pm Sunday major questions go unanswered.

Newport to Ensenada Race organizers require substantial safety equipment: life rafts, VHF radios and cell phones, strobe lights on lift jackets, man over-board pole and ring with a strobe float. No mayday or other call for help was transmitted. It appears the crew had no time to prepare or abandon ship.

The Coast Guard, Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) all maintain very close watch of the border offshore. In the last year a substantial increase in coastal smuggling has been reported. As part of the effort to control the border, these authorities sometimes operate “black” or dark boats – powerful ships 65 feet and larger, some with hulls and decks painted gray or black, that can run dark during the night hours – without lights.

Asked about the boats deployed that night, the duty logs, or other radar or infrared records, Media Officer for the USCG San Diego Seth Johnson said he was not aware of border surveillance. He did say they had records of the movement of vessels with a locator device called an AIS. He could not say whether that information had been reviewed as the Coast Guard is still focused on finding the fourth crewmember.

As of Sunday at 2 pm NPR and other sources have offered the theory that it was a freighter or large commercial vessel or a smuggler with a load of immigrants. The debris found by fellow sailors indicates the sailboat was smashed; for example its stern section was found. Smugglers often use smaller boats, boats under forty feet. Such a boat would not do that much damage. Any commercial vessel will have an AIS and the Coast Guard could therefore have already identified possible suspects. A third possibility; a vessel operated by or for a U.S. agency was involved.

Will keep you updated as new information becomes available.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

JMW April 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Unless the crew failed the basic duty of keeping watch, a commercial vessel is an unlikely cause; big enough, but too visible, too slow. Any moon? Any subs in those waters at the time? Whatever the cause, why would this event be ignored?


editordude April 30, 2012 at 8:49 am

This morning, both the U-T and the LA Times ran articles about this disaster.


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