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Freighter Did Not Cause Yacht Accident, Agents Say

From Associated Press

Shipping agents said Wednesday that a Russian freighter could not have caused a South Pacific boating accident that killed a Santa Clarita man and his two children because it was 115 miles from the scene.

The freighter Kapitan Byankin was among at least five vessels that reportedly sailed through stormy seas 35 miles off the northern tip of New Zealand, where the accident happened just before dawn Friday.

The sole survivor, Judith Ann Sleavin, 43, told police that a large cargo ship bore down on their yacht, which was smashed to bits. Her husband and two children were lost at sea and presumed drowned.

The Melinda Lee was one of eight yachts sailing south in a flotilla from the Tonga Islands to New Zealand.

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The Russian freighter was suspected in the accident because radio operators monitoring the airwaves at the time claimed they heard a crew member curse the presence of yachts in the area.

Also, TV footage of the Kapitan Byankin arriving at a port in Melbourne, on Australia’s southern coast, showed a white paint smear across the ship’s black hull.

The ship’s captain, Alexander Anatoriric, told New Zealand Press Assn. that he did not know about the accident.

A spokesman for the shipping agent Fesco Lines said today it was “highly unlikely” the Russian freighter sank the yacht because it was 115 miles from the accident scene.

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“We expect to receive official clearance of any involvement from the authority some time tomorrow,” Fesco spokesman John Smith said in Wellington, New Zealand.

But the Russian ship “clearly” passed through the area as it sailed from Auckland, on the northern tip of New Zealand, to Melbourne, according to the New Zealand Maritime Safety Authority’s acting director, Tony Martin.

Judith Sleavin was hospitalized for back injuries in Whangarei, on New Zealand’s northeast coast. She was found Sunday on the coast, washed up in an inflatable dinghy. She had floated helplessly on the Pacific for two days.

Her husband, Michael, 42, and her children Benjamin Thomas, 9, and Anna Rose, 7, are presumed drowned. Bad weather has delayed a new air and shoreline search for wreckage and bodies.

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