Cape Town - Was it an Unidentified Flying Object, was it a ship in distress or was it just people firing off red distress flares? The mystery remains...

Mark Thompson, NSRI Bakoven station commander says it all started at about 21:10 on Saturday when their station was alerted to a red distress flare sighting about 500m off-shore at Bantry Bay.

"Within minutes of this report, further ones of distress-flare sightings were received from Lambert's Bay, Yzerfontein, Bakoven, Hout Bay, Strandfontein on the West Coast, and also from Gansbaai (on the south coast).

Thompson said: "All sightings reported were from credible and co-operative witnesses."

One vessel known to be at sea at this time was the 37ft yacht, Mr B, sailing from Cape Town to Langebaan.

No meteor acitvity

It had left Cape Town at 13:00 on Saturday and could not be contacted, the location and fate of the yacht remaining a mystery.

Dr Peter Martinez of the SA Astronomical Observatory confirmed that while there were no significant reports of meteor activity at the time of the reports, the possibility could not be completely ruled out.

Further investigations would be conducted to assist in determining the possibility of meteor activity and/or space craft re-entry.

Thompson said NSRI Table Bay launched the rescue craft Spirit of Vodacom and a search operation covering Table Bay and along the Atlantic Seaboard was initiated.

"As the search operation progressed, NSRI Hout Bay launched rescue craft MTU Nadine Gordimer to join in the search.

"NSRI stations at Bakoven, Yzerfontein, Lambert's Bay and Mykonos were all alerted and volunteers posted along the coast to watch for further flare sightings.

Shot from car park

"They also were to investigate for any overdue vessels and to investigate boat trailers abandoned at launching sites that might suggest vessels or craft still at sea.

"NSRI Hermanus investigated a flare report near Gansbaai which appeared to be unrelated to the suspected flares reported along the West Coast after police confirmed witnesses seeing the flare being activated near a car park in town."

"After the search, covering a vast area of the West Coast, the 'missing' Mr B yacht was confirmed to be safe at Langebaan about 09:00 on Sunday morning.

"Along the West Coast, witnesses were questioned extensively on what they saw.

No signs by 03:00

"It appeared to be similar type of sightings with most witnesses claiming what they thought was a flare arcing downwards at a 70-degree angle, very bright and appearing to be very close in-shore and very close to the person observing the sight.

"NSRI rescue craft covered a large area searching for any signs of vessels in distress, but by 03:00 no signs of vessels in distress or further reports of flare sightings led to rescue craft being recalled until new information could verify a rescue requirement.

"Maritime Radio Services broadcast an all-ships alert and there were no further suspected flare sightings."