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August 18, 2018

Bumper field for Australia's most famous yacht race

Sydney (AFP) – Some 119 yachts have entered this year’s Sydney to Hobart race down the east coast of Australia, the first time since 2004 that the field has topped 100, officials said Monday.

The size of the field for the 628 nautical mile course means there will be three start lines for the 70th edition of the nation’s most famous sailing contest, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) said.

“It’s such a high standard and represents a good cross section of yachts from all over Australia as well as 10 international entries,” CYCA Commodore John Cameron said.

The last time entrants topped 100 was in 2004 — when only 59 of the 116 boats which set sail on December 26 made it across the finish line after the fleet was hit by gale force winds and rough seas.

This year’s field is set to include five supermaxis and 10 international entries with yachts from New Zealand, the Cayman Islands, Britain, Poland, Germany and the United States.

Among those entered is race record holder Wild Oats XI which won line honours last year after completing the gruelling course in two days, six hours, seven minutes and 27 seconds.

Its close rival and fellow supermaxi Perpetual Loyal is also registered, as is Syd Fischer’s new Ragamuffin 100 which will see Fischer, 87, take part in his 46th Sydney to Hobart race.

The fleet will include boats old and new, with the 50-foot Victoire which won handicap honours this year up alongside vessels such as the 1932 Maluka of Kermandie, which is just nine metres long.

American entrant Comanche, a new 100-foot supermaxi built in Maine, has been designed to break speed records but is yet to be tested in the endurance contest after only a few weeks in the water.

The classic race departs Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day and the yachts can face treacherous weather as they sail down the coast, across the notorious Bass Strait and towards the island state of Tasmania.

In 1998 five yachts sunk and six people died when the race was hit by wild weather.

The final fleet for this year’s race will be announced on November 25.

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Bumper field for Australia's most famous yacht race

EU mission to help Italy with migrant crisis to start in November

By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union plans to launch a mission to help Italy cope with swarms of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, the EU said on Tuesday.

Called Operation Triton, the mission will be managed by Europe’s border control agency, Frontex. It will reinforce Italy’s own rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, which began after 366 people drowned just a mile from the Italian island of Lampedusa when their boat capsized a year ago.

Italy has repeatedly called for more help from the EU to cope with the record number of sea-borne arrivals from conflict-torn Libya and Syria over the past year. Mare Nostrum, or “Our Sea,” has been costing Italy 9 million euros a month, straining the resources of its navy and coastguard.

“With the launch of the Triton operation, tailored to the needs and requests defined by the Italian authorities, the EU can show concrete solidarity to Italy, by reinforcing its border surveillance and supporting its humanitarian efforts,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in a statement on Tuesday.

Frontex has called on member states for contributions to the new mission, which is expected to cost 2.9 million euros ($3.66 million) a month, so that it can begin on Nov. 1.

In addition to two Italian patrol vessels, Frontex is hoping for two surveillance aircrafts and three more vessels to patrol the waters up to 30 miles from Italy’s southern coast.

EU officials said Germany, France and Spain had already indicated they would help, although they could provide no details on what the three countries might contribute.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year in Italy, and in September the International Organization for Migration reported than almost 3,000 people had drowned in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in 2014.

Questions remain over the future of Mare Nostrum, which was originally envisaged as an emergency response to the flows of migrants from North Africa. Last Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Mare Nostrum would not be stopped until the EU came up with something just as good or better.

Given that Triton’s budget is just a third of Mare Nostrum’s, it is unclear how Frontex would manage to patrol the seas if Mare Nostrum were to be abandoned.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Larry King)

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EU mission to help Italy with migrant crisis to start in November