27 Jul 2008

Inquiries begin into three deaths at sea over weekend

12:15 pm on 27 July 2008

Investigations are under way into the deaths of three people in stormy seas off the Bay of Plenty at the weekend.

Two people are dead after a commercial fishing vessel ran aground east of Opotiki in the Bay of Plenty, while the body of a man who fell out of his outrigger canoe in rough seas off Mount Maunganui has been found on Matakana Island.

The deaths happened during the weekend storm, which brought high winds and heavy rain across the top of the North Island.

Maritime New Zealand is investigating the fishing accident and is considering whether to launch a formal inquiry into the outrigger canoe death.

Fishing boat grounded

The 18-metre, Sanford-owned San Cuvier hit rocks at Haurere Point, 10 kilometres east of Opotiki, about 3.30am on Sunday.

Sanford managing director Eric Barrett says the boat had been out fishing after leaving the port of Tauranga, and was sheltering overnight. However, the boat was then driven ashore.

He says that once the vessel struck land the crew launched a life raft and attempted to reach the shore.

Two of the crew died, but only one of the bodies has been recovered.

Sanford says the two men were well-respected fishermen and experienced skippers.

They were Rick Josephs, 38, of Northland, the boat's skipper and an experienced longliner, and Damien Wyatt, 35, of Tauranga, who was also a skipper and who went on the trip as a relieving fisherman.

The two surviving crew members, a 22-year-old man and a 16-year-old youth, are recovering in Whakatane Hospital from extensive bruising suffered while trying to reach the shore.

Mr Barrett says the vessel contains 8000 litres of diesel fuel.

He says he suspects heavy swells may have dragged the boat on its anchor and into rocks.

Mr Barrat says the crew were probably unaware the boat was lurching towards rocks.

Heavy swells stopped an attempt by insurance assessors and company personal to board the boat on Monday.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre received a beacon alert from the boat about 3.30am on Sunday.

Spokesperson Shona Brown says the boat was found by a search and rescue plane a few hours later. She says a helicopter was then used to winch two survivors and one of the bodies to shore.

Police are investigating the incident.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council is conducting an aerial survey of the area around the boat to check for oil spills.

Canoeist body found

The body of a canoeist missing off Mount Maunganui has been found washed up on Matakana Island.

Police have named him as James Moore, 33.

Police say Mr Moore fell out of his canoe about 500 metres off the main beach just before 5pm on Saturday.

Canoe wreckage was found on the seaward side of Matakana Island about 10am on Sunday and Mr Moore's body was found an hour and a half later.

Mr Moore was one of a group of four who attempted to paddle from Maketu to Pilot Bay after a race they were due to take part in was cancelled. The other three made it back to land safely.

Water Safety New Zealand general manager Matt Claridge says anyone checking forecasts in the Bay of Plenty area would have been aware of the storm, and boaties should check conditions before they head out.