16 Sep 2020

Gulf Livestock 1: Hopes pinned on satellite technology

9:01 am on 16 September 2020

Friends and family of two missing stock handlers hope satellite technology can find signs of life in the South China Sea, two weeks since the Gulf Livestock 1, carrying 43 crew and nearly 6000 cattle capsized in a typhoon.

Scott Harris (left) and Lochie Bellerby were on board the Gulf Livestock 1.

New Zealanders Scott Harris (left) and Lochie Bellerby were on board the Gulf Livestock 1. Photo: RNZ

After plucking two Filipino survivors from the water, Japan has scaled back its search.

The parents of Southland man Lochie Bellerby have spearheaded independent efforts to calculate where missing crew could have floated to, and now, Auckland-based Eagle Technology has offered to help the search.

It is working on a database of satellite images that people can scour for signs of life or clues about the missing boat.

For Ryan Pickering, a close friend of the other New Zealander, Scott Harris, the hunt needed to go beyond the area physically covered by Japan's Coast Guard.

"I have seen messages that Scott said, via text, that they were in the Yellow Sea. There was another comment, another passing message from Lochie... that they were in the Yellow Sea as well," he said.

"From what I gather and what I've read, they're not searching in the right place. They haven't searched what they call the Yellow Sea."

Cargo ship worker Riley Jeeves said he had passed through the same shipping route through the South China Sea more than 20 times in three years.

"It's not uncommon to go out on deck in the middle of the day and see two, three, four small islands within 10, 15 miles of you. It's a warm stretch of water - I've sailed through there in maybe mid July, it was 35 degrees and the water temperature was close to 20. At the time it was calm, no wind and sunny.

"Normally it's a nice stretch of water unless you get caught out in a typhoon, which unfortunately this vessel has."

Gulf Livestock 1 vessel off the shores of Malaga in 2018.

The Gulf Livestock 1, in 2018. Photo: Frans Truyens via Vessel Finder

Based on currents and weather conditions, and what he had heard from experts, he was confident an area 300 miles off the shore of Osaka, in Japan, was a much more likely location for the boat or survivors, to be.

Jeeves said there were good reasons to keep searching for survivors - or at least for the three missing liferafts that he said would have automatically deployed.

"If these boys are alive they're sitting in the water... they'll be hungry, dehydrated, tired, terrified for their life. And if they are still alive they're waiting for search parties to come to them," he said.

Friends of the two are lobbying MPs, including Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Transport Minister Phil Twyford, for help to resume physical searches.

Peters said New Zealand was looking at whether it would be viable to search for the ship's black box, but Isabel Vialoux, a friend of Lochie's since school, said that wasn't enough.

She wanted to know if the government was helping with a search and rescue mission for survivors.

"What we want them to do is contribute resources to a search. Anything and everything that they could provide," she said.

That was echoed by Danielle Watson, a childhood friend of Scott Harris.

"I would love them to be able to go over there and continue on. It would mean the world if the government got on board. They need to help with finding our boys," she said.

As well as the two survivors, Japanese search teams have found traces of fuel on the sea's surface as well as floating cow carcasses.

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