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Navy Underwater Search
In early May Operation Tam police were authorised to use navy divers and equipment to search parts of the Marlborough Sounds seabed.
Detective Inspector Pope said searches would be conducted in areas nominated by police inquiries. Specialised technical equipment would be used. He said the sounds waterways would make the search difficult. He said searchers would be looking for anything that would help in the inquiry, “Obviously human remains, but anything equally anything that relates to the inquiry – we have yet to recover any item of relevance, clothing etc.”

Operation Tam is one of New Zealand’s highest profile investigations. It began on 2 January 1998 after young friends Olivia (17) and Ben (21) disappeared in the early hours of New Year’s morning. They were last seen by Furneaux Lodge water taxi operator Guy Wallace who ferried them, along with a mystery stranger, to a yacht moored in the Marlborough Sound’s Endeavour Inlet.

On 8 May Mr Pope is reported as saying some 20 objects had been identified on the seabed and marked by the naval vessel.

HMNZNS Wakakura’s captain, Lt Commander Blair Cliffe said objects had been located and the information stored on optical discs, which would be analysed by enlarging and closely examining the images. He said he thought however, that the objects would be too big and not what the searchers were looking for.

The navy uses torpedo-shaped sidescan sonar, which it tows about five meters above the seabed. The ship moves at about 3 knots up and down parallel lines 30m apart, to cover approximately 1sq km search areas.

By 11 May police said about 40 objects had been noted that required further examination. The area searched stretched from Marine Head and Scott Pt to Blumine Island.

The Dominion of 12 May reported Detective Inspector Rob Pope as saying navy divers would begin searching 10 underwater sites that day and would need about five days. He said close analysis of the 40 objects earlier identified by sonar revealed only about 10 of them warranted physical examination.

The navy dive team loaded a submersible, remote-operated vehicle and other equipment on to HMNZS Wakakura at Picton on 11 May.

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Police authorise new searches of the seabed.

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