Wellington : Six people were rescued after 11 on board a vessel overturned off the New Zealand coast with local media saying at least five dead in what is being feared as a boat-whale collision during a fishing venture on Saturday.
All five missing after the boat capsize following collision with what is believed to be a whale at Goose Bay near Kaikoura in South Island are being presumed dead, according to the media.
National broadcaster RNZ quoted town’s mayor Craig Mackle, who said a log was not likely to be the cause of the capsize at Kaikoura, a popular whale-watching destination. A log would punch a hole in the vessel rather than overturn it.
Mackle said a group of women aged over 50 were on board at the time, and sea conditions were calm. It is believed the group were on a boat belonging to a local fishing charter business. Mackle told news site Stuff there was a “sick feeling” among those waiting for more news.
Police said they had received reports of a capsized boat but did not immediately provide any further details about the accident, the Guardian said.
An eyewitness, Vanessa Chapman told Stuff she and a group of friends watched the rescue efforts unfold from Goose Bay. She said when she arrived at a lookout spot, she could see a person sitting atop an overturned boat waving arms.
She said two rescue helicopters and a third local helicopter were circling before two divers jumped out. The person atop the boat was rescued and a second person appeared to have been pulled from the water, Chapman said.
The seafloor drops away precipitously from the Kaikoura coast, making for deep waters close to the shore. A number of businesses offer boat trips or helicopter rides so tourists can see whales, dolphins and other sea creatures up close, as per the Guardian report.
The boat involved is understood to belong to a local fishing charter business, said Stuff.
Maritime NZ had sent two investigators from Christchurch to Kaikōura. An investigation would begin only after rescue/recovery operations were finished, a Stuff report said. A “thorough” investigation would be under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Maritime Transport Act, and it would support the police in its investigation, Maritime NZ said.
The capsize triggered a large search operation for several hours throughout the afternoon. Witnesses watched as a rescue helicopter, Coastguard volunteers, and divers were called in throughout the day to help with the rescue and recovery efforts. By 4pm the boat, previously seen upside down in the water, was being towed to shore.
The South Bay slipway was closed to the public while police responded.
Witnesses said it was hard to tell the kind of boat it was – from a distance it just appeared to be a dinghy, but being upside down, it was difficult to see. The conditions were “absolutely calm. A wee bit of a roll, but it’s unreal to think someone has capsized their boat”, they added.