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Five Cargo Ships in Seas Where Yacht Went Down, Says Captain

November 28, 1995

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ For years Judith and Michael Sleavin dreamed of sailing around the world on a yacht with their two children. On Monday, authorities were just beginning to understand why that dream had become a nightmare, with Judith the only survivor.

At least five cargo ships were reportedly sailing through stormy waters where the California family’s yacht, Melinda Lee, was hit and smashed to bits with three lives lost.

Marine authorities have yet to determine which ship collided with the ill-fated boat north of New Zealand before dawn Friday.

Mrs. Sleavin, 43, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., was found washed up in an inflatable raft on the east coast of the North Island on Sunday. She was hysterical, rescuers said, and later hospitalized with cuts and two cracked vertebrae.

Her husband Michael, 42, and her children, Benjamin Thomas, 9, and Anna Rose, 7, fared worse _ they were lost at sea. Benjamin went down with the ship after it was struck. Anna and Michael were tossed from their raft in high winds and heavy rains and never seen again.

That left only Judith to tell her harrowing tale.

Mrs. Sleavin told rescuers that the Melinda Lee was hit about 30 nautical miles northeast of Cape Brett about 2 a.m. Friday. She had been on watch that night while her husband and the children slept below deck.

The couple _ he a salesman, she a civil engineer _ had been away from the United States cruising on their yacht with their children since early 1993. The family expected to be gone for about five years, the Los Angeles Times reported in today’s editions.

``This was their dream _ to sail around the world with their children,″ Richard Lull of Hermosa Beach, a family friend, told the Times.

Planes set out Sunday looking for the U.S.-registered Melinda Lee, overdue on a voyage from Tonga, after Mrs. Sleavin was found at Deep Water Cove, near the Bay of Islands tourist area.

Mrs. Sleavin, who has not spoken to the media since the rescue, told police a large cargo ship bore down on their boat, one of eight yachts sailing as a flotilla from Tonga to New Zealand.

Retired Sausalito salesman Chris Wagner, 55, and his wife Nedra, of Sausalito, Calif., said their yacht Magic Carpet was part of the group. They tracked five cargo ships in the area with radar in the hours before the collision.

Wagner said he radioed each ship to be on the look out for yachts ``but only one responded.″

Radio New Zealand reported that officials were investigating whether a Russian-registered ship, Kapitan Byankin, was involved.

The ship’s captain, Alexander Anatoriric, told New Zealand Press Association: ``I don’t know of any accident.″

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