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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2007, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
Ghost yacht 'kidnapping' theory
The Kaz II (Image: Queensland police)
The yacht was found drifting 150km (95 miles) offshore
Relatives of one of three sailors missing from an abandoned yacht found drifting off Australia's coast believe the crew may have been kidnapped.

Hope Himing, niece of skipper Derek Batten, said the circumstances around their disappearance "didn't add up".

The Kaz II was found off the Great Barrier Reef last week with its engine running and a table laid for dinner, but with no signs of any people.

Police have said the men were probably washed overboard and drowned.

The fenders were out on their yacht, and the only reason you ever put them out is when another boat comes aside
Hope Himing, skipper's niece

Mr Batten, 56, and brothers Peter and James Tunstead, 69 and 63, were last seen on 15 April leaving Airlie Beach, bound for Townsville.

The 12m (40ft) catamaran was spotted drifting by a helicopter three days later with its headsail badly shredded.

'Still alive'

Rescuers who searched the vessel found the men's clothes folded in neat piles, a laptop computer charging, the radio working and navigational equipment laid out on the table.

Three lifejackets and a dinghy were still on board.

Investigators who examined the yacht's global positioning system said it had been drifting with the wind and currents since the day the crew departed Airlie Beach.

map

Police have ruled out foul play, but Ms Himing and her family say they believe other people may have boarded the vessel.

"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," she said.

She also questioned other circumstances surrounding their disappearance.

"If it was bad weather, why would their fishing line be out? Why would their clothes be piled up?

"If it was that bad that it would have knocked three experienced sailors off, why wouldn't they have put on their lifejackets? It just doesn't add up for us."

Mr Himing added she believed the men were still alive.

Earlier this week police inspector Warren Webber said it was not unusual for small-craft sailors to leave their fenders out at sea.

Australian authorities ended their search for the crew on Sunday. But a Queensland Police Service aircraft will continue to monitor the area, police said.


SEE ALSO
'Ghost yacht' crew search halted
22 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Hopes fade for 'ghost yacht' crew
21 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
'Ghost yacht' found off Australia
20 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific

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