WELLINGTON (AFP) - Rescuers were on Monday refusing to give up the search for survivors from a vintage US yacht believed to have sunk in rough seas off New Zealand, but admitted the chances of finding any of the seven crew members alive were fast diminishing.
The wooden schooner Nina disappeared almost four weeks ago after setting off from New Zealand's North Island to cross the notorious Tasman Sea to Australia.
"The hopes for the crew as each day progresses get less and less," New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre search leader Neville Blakemore told Radio New Zealand.
Mr Blakemore said searchers had covered more than 500,000 square nautical miles looking for the yacht without success but would continue the search on Monday.
He said a series of storms had swept across the Tasman Sea since the last message from the vessel on June 4 and the New Zealand air force was certain its Orion aircraft would have picked up the 21-metre yacht on its radar if it was still afloat.
He said the Orion was now following a "low and slow" flightpath to concentrate on looking for the yacht's life raft.
"For seven people to survive in an eight-man rubber life raft is very difficult in rough weather, so the chances of surviving are decreasing each day," Mr Blakemore said.
The 85-year-old wooden vessel Nina, owned by American David Dyche, 58, was heading for Newcastle, Australia.
Also on board were his 60-year-old wife, Rosemary, and their son David, 17, along with a 28-year-old American man and a 35-year-old Briton, an 18-year-old American woman and noted American computer systems authority Evi Nemeth, 73.
In 1928, the Nina became the first US vessel to win the famous British Isles Fastnet race, according to an entry on the website sailblogs.com by Rosemary Dyche.
She describes the schooner as the flagship of the New York Yacht Club after World War II before her husband bought it in 1988, detailing its restoration as "a labour of love".