Felixstowe: Rescue team ‘could have saved woman’ missing after yacht and dredger collision

A volunteer rescue service last night claimed it could have reached a stricken yacht after it was in collision with a dredger within 90 seconds had it been operational.

The yacht and the dredger – believed to have been the 98-metre long Shoreway – collided about a mile off the coast of Felixstowe with the yacht sinking within five minutes.

A male and female sailor, plus two dogs, were left adrift in the North Sea. The man and one dog was pulled from the water by the dredger crew, but the woman and other dog are still missing.

After a major search and rescue operation on Sunday afternoon, rescuers continued to search all night with a further day-long search yesterday – and still no trace of the woman.

John Cresswell, chairman of the Felixstowe Volunteer Coast Patrol and Rescue Service, said had his craft been at sea it could have been at the scene of the collision in less than two minutes and may have saved the woman.

The team has been off the water since last December after its rescue craft Volunteer suffered severe damage in a road crash while being transported to help out with the tidal sea surge rescue operation. They are waiting for repairs to be completed.

Mr Cresswell said: “I am gutted. At that time on a Sunday we would be patrolling in Harwich Harbour and we would have been one-and-a-half minutes away from where the collision took place.

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“Even if we had been down at Felixstowe Ferry we would have only been two-and-a-half minutes away.

“Without doubt we would have been the first on the scene – we would have heard the mayday call and been on our way before the Coastguard tasked us.

“I am sure we would have made a difference. We may have possibly been able to have saved the woman and possibly could have towed the yacht away before it sunk.

“It is just very sad and we are all thinking of the relatives.”

A dive team from Norfolk fire brigade was called in yesterday to help search through the yacht wreckage while the search zone was widened, taking account of the tides and wind to calculate drift.

Deputy chief fire officer at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, Roy Harold said: “We received a request from Suffolk Police to assist in a missing persons search five miles off the coast of Felixstowe.

“We have sent our Underwater Search and Rescue Team out to provide this assistance.

“The team is part of our specialist search capability which is often used to support other emergency service operations in the region.”

A spokesman for Suffolk Police confirmed a force helicopter has also been used in the search to scour the coastline, along with a Coastguard search helicopter from the Solent.

The Walton lifeboat sailed at first light, at 4.25am, and stayed out as long as possible, while the Harwich boat returned to port to refuel before standing by to assist the fire brigade dive team.

Captain Rod Shaw, operations manager at Harwich RNLI, said: “The weather has been perfect, it is flat calm, and we knew exactly where the incident took place so we have a set position to work from.”

The search area roughly covered a 10 sq mile area centred approximately five miles off the coast of Felixstowe.

Both Harwich lifeboats and the Walton lifeboat were joined by a Sea King helicopter from RAF Wattisham and a number of pilot boats and commercial vessels in the initial search on Sunday.

The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau will be launching an inquiry into the incident and has been working with those coordinating the search.