29 Nov 2016

Kaipara Harbour victim's family keeps vigil

7:36 pm on 29 November 2016

The daughter of Taulagi Afamasaga, who is still missing in the Kaipara Harbour, says she does not want to lay blame for Saturday's boating tragedy.

Three days after the charter fishing boat Francie capsized crossing the bar in treacherous conditions, the family of Mr Afamasaga are keeping vigil at Parakai Wharf in the hope the sea will return his body.

The bodies of seven other men, including the skipper, Bill McNatty, have been recovered. Three men survived.

Mr Afamasaga's daughter, Amy Yerro, told Checkpoint with John Campbell crossing the bar was always dangerous, but even more so on the back way in.

"[Mum] said to me, it is so rough out there, so dangerous. When they go out, they go out with the waves but when they come back in anything can happen."

The families were still asking questions about why the men went out that day, Ms Yerro said.

Taulagi "Lagi" Afamasaga - pictured with his daughter Amy

Taulagi "Lagi" Afamasaga - pictured with his daughter, Amy Photo: Supplied / NZ Police

"It's so rough out there and we can't understand why they would've gone out there if it was so rough," she said.

The fish were bigger in the outer harbour beyond the bar, and that could have been part of the decision to make the crossing, she said.

"We can't blame anyone either because it would've been a potentially collective decision for them all to go out, we don't know. We can't speculate and we can't blame anyone for what's happened," Ms Yerro said.

Mr Afamasaga's niece, Barcelona Afamasaga, said he was the backbone and foundation of the family.

"Being here gives me great memories of him just being a real humble, caring family man - whatever we needed, he was always there," she said.

She believed there were lifejackets on the Francie, but she was not sure if anybody wore them, she said.

"We just want to send a message out there to those who decide to go out there fishing, just take caution and be prepared. Be safe," she said. "Anything can happen."

The other victims have been named as: Auerua Ngametuaangai Aria, a 59-year-old Cook Islander; Alipate Afeaki Manumua, a 33-year-old Tongan; Fred Marsters, a 58-year-old Cook Islander; Tevita Natisolo Tangi, a 31-year-old Tongan; Fonua Amanu Taufa, a 42-year-old Tongan; and Sunia Ungounga, a 43-year-old Tongan.

Mr Afamasaga, 56, was a member of the Samoan community.

Call for more maritime safety awareness

Tongan community leader Salote Heleta Lilo said the tragedy highlighted the need for more education around wearing lifejackets, particularly in Pacific Island communities.

She said, in Tonga, people grew up going to sea without lifejackets.

"We go from one small island to the other - small, other islands - we don't wear that. We just hop in the boat or canoe and then we're just on our way."

She and other community leaders were liaising with the four families to organise a candlelit service in South Auckland on Sunday evening, and they were hoping to confirm that tomorrow, she said.

Six people were rescued but others were feared dead after what is thought to be The Francie fishing vessel got into trouble in the Kaipara Harbour, northwest of Auckland.

The Francie Photo: Facebook

Coastguard operations manager Ray Burge said wearing lifejackets while crossing the bar was taught in their new programme on bar safety.

He said so far at least 300 people had attended its "Raising the Bar" seminars, which were currently available in its northern region with a roll-out planned around the country.

There were not many incidents on bars, but they were significant when they happened, and people should be prepared to stay overnight on their vessel if crossings appeared too dangerous, he said.

Wreck of fishing boat still not found

Investigators looking into the tragedy, meanwhile, have still not found the wreck.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission now has four investigators in the area interviewing survivors, family, the police and other witnesses.

Chief investigator Tim Burfoot said the team was also collecting evidence, some of which had washed up on local beaches.

He said the commission would consider whether the wreck needed to be found and inspected once all other evidence had been gathered and analysed.

A spokesperson for the commission said maritime authorities might choose to locate and move the wreck if it became a navigational hazard.