Home > Katz II - Unexplained Mystery of Ghost Yacht
Katz II - Unexplained Mystery of Ghost Yacht
Source : Multiple Sources
In 2007, the 12-metre catamaran, the Kaz II, was discovered unmanned off the coast of Queensland, northeast Australia in April. The yacht, which had left Airlie Beach on Sunday 15 April, was spotted about 80 nautical miles (150 km) off Townsville, near the outer Great Barrier Reef on the following Wednesday. When boarded on Friday, the engine was running, a laptop was running, the radio and GPS were working and a meal was set to eat, but the three-man crew were not on board. All the sails were up but one was badly shredded, while three life jackets and survival equipment, including an emergency beacon, were found on board. Investigators recovered a video recording that showed footage taken by the crew shortly before their disappearance. The footage showed nothing abnormal.
The Katz II was (or is) a private yacht whose 2007 crew met with a similar end to the crew of the Mary Celeste. That is to say, no one is quite sure what happened to them. The story is slightly less suspicious than the story of the Mary Celeste, given that there were only three men on board the Katz II. Nevertheless, the lack of clues, disappearance of the crew and discover the boat are very much the same, save the more modern equipment on board the Katz II.
The Katz II was found adrift near the Great Barrier Reef on April 18, 2007. The Katz and three friends -- all experienced -- left Airlie Beach only three days earlier. Upon boarding the vessel, authorities found food set out on the table, equipment still turned on, the yacht's entire store of life jackets, the engine running and a laptop still turned on. There was even a coffee mug still on deck. The only thing that was not there were people and there was no sign of them. The case of the Katz II yacht was quite unusual.
A rescue effort went underway immediately. However, it appeared, judging by a video made by the men and other clues, that the men had gone missing the very evening after they left. That meant nearly three days in the open ocean without life vests, if they had fallen overboard. That meant three days lead, if they met with foul play. They were never found.
The investigation came up with no signs of foul play. Everything was in perfect working order, save a torn sail. There was no sign of a struggle, no blood to be seen, etc. There was also a pistol on board that had not been removed from its hiding place or been fired. It is generally thought that something happened in which one or more of the men fell off or intentionally got off the boat. Then, a rescue operation by the other man or men ensued in which catastrophe struck and the remaining man or men went overboard as well.
Disappearance of crew
According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the Kaz II departed from Airlie Beach on 15 April 2007, and was heading for Townsville on the first leg of a journey that was to take it around Northern Australia to Western Australia. On board were owner Derek Batten and his neighbours, brother Peter and James Tunstead.
The first indication that there was a problem came on 18 April, when it was spotted by a helicopter, which reported that the boat was drifting in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef, and that its crew were potentially in distress. On 20 April, maritime authorities caught up with the boat and boarded it. They found the three-man crew missing in circumstances which they described as being "strange."
"What they found was a bit strange in that everything was normal; there was just no sign of the crew." -- Jon Hall, Queensland's Emergency Management office.
In a statement delivered on the day of the boarding, officials with the Queensland Emergency Management Office revealed that the yacht was in serviceable condition and was laid out as if the crew were still on board. Food and flatware were set out on the table, a laptop computer was set up and turned on, and the engine was still running. Officials also confirmed that the boat's emergency systems, including its radio and GPS were fully functional, and that it still had its full complement of life jackets. According to news sources, there was even a small boat still hoisted on the back of the boat and the anchor was up. The only signs, other than the disappearance of the crew, that were out of the ordinary, were damage to one of the boat's sails and that there was no life raft on board (it is unknown whether there ever was one aboard
On Friday, 20 April, the Kaz II was towed into the Townsville port for forensic examination On 21 April Police Sergeant Bardell and Sergeant Molloy searched the ship for signs of foul play or third-party involvement; no evidence for this was found. They found the cabin to be neat and tidy apart from some magazines, a piece of newspaper, and a wine cask which were lying on the floor. It was later determined that these items ended up on the floor while the ship was being towed to shore. In the sink were a few butter knives and, on a bench in the galley, a plastic sheath of fishing knives was found. They did not appear to be used recently. Under Batten's bed, in a sealed container, the investigators found a firearm and some ammunition, none of which was apparently missing. In a drawer they found an additional single bullet of the same caliber.
After analyzing data about the Kaz II's course from the ship's GPS system, police say that on the morning of her departure from Airlie Beach the ship was steered in northeast direction, into an area where squalls and rough seas were building. On that same day, late in the afternoon, the GPS data shows her adrift.
The investigators also recovered a video recording that showed footage taken by the crew during their trip. It revealed some clues as to the men's last day. The last footage, filmed by James Tunstead on 15 April at 10:05 A.M. local time, shortly before the men disappeared, showed, among other things:
* Batten was at the helm
* Peter Tunstead is sitting on the aft stairway of the boat; he is fishing
* A long white rope can be seen trailing behind the boat
* The engine is not running
* Fenders can be seen hanging from safety rails on both sides of the boat
* The camera is panned 360 degrees and shows islands and surroundings; this helped investigators pinpoint the exact location of the ship
* The sea is choppy and none of the men are wearing a life jacket
* Tunstead's shirt and glasses are not in the place where they were later found
State coroner Barnes admits in his official report that he "cannot be so definitive about the circumstances under which the deaths occurred." However, based on the eyewitness accounts, the video found on board, and the state of the yacht in which it was found, the report proposes the following scenario:
"On Sunday, 15 April 2007, at 10:05 A.M., the Kaz II was sailing in the vicinity of George Point. Up to that moment everything was going as planned but, in the following hour, their situation changed dramatically. The men hauled in the white rope that was trailing behind the boat and bundled it up on the foredeck, possibly to dry, next to the locker it was normally kept in. For unknown reasons, James Tunstead then took off his T-shirt and glasses and placed them on the backseat. The report says that since the men's fishing lure was found entangled in the ship's port side rudder, an obvious explanation would be that one of them tried to free the lure and fell overboard while doing so. Standing on the boat's 'sugar scoop' platform (a platform at the back of the ship close to the waterline) while the boat is moving is perilous and falling in the water is easy, but getting back aboard almost impossible. One of the other men then came to the rescue of his friend, while Batten, still on board, started the motor and realized he had to drop the sails before he could go back for his friends.
As he left the helm to drop the sails, a deviation of the ship's course or wind direction could have easily caused a jibe, swinging the boom across the deck and knocking Batten overboard. This could even have happened before Batten was able to untie and throw out the life ring to his friends. A blue coffee mug found near the life ring may support this. Since the boat was travelling before wind and at a speed of 15 kn (28 km/h), it would be out of reach of the men within seconds. The report states: "From that point, the end would have been swift. None of them was a good swimmer, the seas were choppy; the men would have quickly become exhausted and sunk beneath the waves."
The report rules out foul play and staged disappearance.
Several alternative explanations have been put forward for the crew's disappearance.
According to authorities in Townsville, the weather had been windy and the sea had been rough between the time that the Kaz II departed and was found drifting. This led authorities to speculate that the crew may have experienced some form of sudden difficulty during rough weather and gone overboard. However, one issue with this theory is that contents of the cabin, including a table, did not seem to have been disrupted in any way. Relatives of the missing men say that the boat's condition make this unlikely and point to discrepancies such as the fact that the men's fishing lines and laundry were set out, and that their life jackets were still stowed, which indicated that they weren't experiencing rough weather at the time of their disappearance.
Also noted was the fact that the Kaz II was found with its fenders out, leading to speculation that the Kaz II may have docked with another as-yet-unknown vessel to which the crew might have willingly, or unwillingly, transferred.
"'The fenders were out on their yacht, and the only reason you ever put them out is when another boat comes aside or if you come to rest against a wharf." -- Hope Himing, niece of boat owner Derek Batten.
In answer to speculation, Townsville police stated that small craft commonly leave their fenders out at all times, making it impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about this feature.
Derek Batten was said to have bought the Kaz II a year before and sailed it a couple of times since then. The Tunsteads were not nautical novices either, since they sailed together from the time they were 18 years old, and even worked in the radio rooms of the Volunteer Sea Rescue. The last known contact of the family members with any of the crew was made one-and-a-half hours after it left port, when one crew member was contacted by his wife.
Volunteer radio operator Ivan Ormes recorded that the Kaz II radioed in at 6:45 P.M. on 15 April, the evening of their departure, giving its position as George Point. This is the last known contact with the Kaz II. Ms. Grey says that it should have taken them only 2½ hours to go to George Point and that it is unclear what took them so long to arrive there. One explanation is that they were just fishing the whole day. But another explanation is that they had problems with their GPS, since they already tried to set off on 14 April, but were forced to return because of the non-functional GPS. That incident was because of a user error and it was easily fixed, so the Kaz II set off early the next day.
Other hypotheses include that the boat became stuck on a sandbar near George Point, where the boat's last radio message was made. When the men jumped overboard to push it free, a gust of wind blew and the boat drifted away, leaving them stranded. This would explain why towels were left out on the deck.
Another hypothesis is that one crew member may have been washed over by a freak wave and that the others were lost trying to rescue him.