News24

8 missing as boat sinks off New Zealand

2012-03-15 15:00

Wellington - One body was found and seven people from the same family, including two children, were reported missing on Thursday after a fishing boat sunk off southern New Zealand, news reports said.

One unidentified survivor was reported to have been plucked from the sea about 18 hours after the boat, named Easy Rider, capsized about midnight on Wednesday in the 30km wide Foveaux Strait separating Stewart Island from the bottom of the South Island.

Hopes for the others were fading as darkness fell on Thursday after a major search and rescue operation discovered one body, the Stuff news website reported.

The sea temperature in the strait, notorious for strong winds and currents, was reported to be 13° and experts said a human's expected survival time was one to six hours.

The alarm was reportedly not raised until the 11.6m boat, which was said to have left the port of Bluff on the mainland in bad weather on Wednesday night, failed to make a scheduled rendezvous on Stewart Island. The missed rendezvous was 14 hours after it is believed to have sunk.

Delicacy

The New Zealand Herald website reported the boat was skippered by Rewai Karetai, aged 47, who was making a family outing to catch muttonbirds, a seabird also known as sooty shearwaters.

They are a delicacy for many indigenous Maoris, who have a traditional legal right to take them from their breeding grounds on the small islands off Stewart Island.

The Herald quoted an aunt, Jill Karetai, as saying the family went muttonbirding every year. "It's horrible because we know there's some babies on board and two or three or four at least of my brother-in-laws and nephews," she told the newspaper. "It's just dreadful."

It quoted an unnamed boating source at the Bluff port with 45 years of experience as saying, "The conditions out on the strait were pretty atrocious. ... Personally, I wouldn't have gone out of the harbour."