17 Mar 2012

Divers fail to find four missing in Foveaux Strait

9:40 pm on 17 March 2012

Navy divers have failed to find four people still missing in Foveaux Strait, where the fishing boat Easy Rider capsized early on Thursday morning.

The boat capsized when it was hit by a freak wave just after midnight on Wednesday.

The bodies of four men have so far been recovered.

On Saturday, three were formally identified as Boe Gillies, 28, John Karetai, 58 and Peter Pekamu-Bloxham, 53, all from Invercargill.

Shane Topi, 29, also from Invercargill, was identified on Friday.

The sole survivor, Dallas Reedy, who had hypothermia after 18 hours in the sea, was discharged from Southland Hospital on Saturday afternoon.

The others on the boat were William Karetai, 47, of Bluff and Paul Fowler-Karetai, 40, Odin Karetai, 7, and David Fowler, 50, all from Invercargill.

The navy used specialised underwater cameras to photograph the boat on Saturday.

Inspector Lane Todd told a news conference that a navy team undertook two dives at the site of the sunken vessel, but there are definitely no more bodies in the vessel.

He says the search will continue, however search and rescue staff will be given a rest on Saturday night before resuming at first light on Sunday morning.

As part of Saturday's operation, a fixed wing aircraft conducted an aerial search of the mainland coast between an area around Riverton and Waipapa Point.

Two coastguard vessels also searched the mainland coast, while another vessel searched the outer islands at Bluff, including the area around Ruapuke Island.

The Easy Rider is lying on its side in water 40 metres deep, about five kilometres off Black Rock Point on Stewart Island.

The Easy Rider left Bluff on a muttonbirding trip on Wednesday evening.

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt says the Bluff community is devastated by the loss of life from the sinking, as they were in May 2006 when the fishing boat Kotuku sank in similar circumstances. Six people, including two children, died.

He says a ferry servicing the Mutton Bird Islands could be introduced to avoid another tragedy in Foveaux Strait.

Mr Shadbolt says a large ferry could withstand the rogue waves that the Strait is known for.