Sea search for 'Marie Celeste' crew

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The Independent Online

A massive air-sea search is under way today after a "Marie Celeste" catamaran was found drifting off Australia's Great Barrier Reef with engines and electronics running, food on the table - but no crew.

A coastal patrol aircraft spotted the 40ft vessel, named Kaz II, on Wednesday, but rescue workers reached the boat only today, confirming there was no-one aboard.

"They got on board and said the engine was running, the computers were running, there was a laptop set up on the table which was running, the radio was working ... and there was food and utensils set on the table ready to eat, but no sign of the crew," said Jon Hall, of Queensland state's Emergency Management office.

"It was a bit strange."

The vessel's emergency beacon and three life jackets were still on board.

Queensland police confirmed that three men were missing and that a sea and air search was under way from Airlie Beach to the north-eastern city of Townsville.

Ten planes and two helicopters are searching an area spanning some 700 nautical miles, along with four volunteer rescue boats.

Marine police are towing the vessel back to shore for further investigation.

Sharon Davidson, of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said the men had set out from Airlie Beach on Sunday and were planning to sail around northern Australia to Western Australia state.

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