18 Mar 2012

Strait search suspended pending new information

10:07 pm on 18 March 2012

The official search for four people believed to have drowned when their boat capsized in Foveaux Strait on Thursday has been suspended because no new information has come to hand.

Police say they are monitoring the private vessel's activities and will restart their own search should new information become available.

The weather has closed in on Sunday as a front passes through, shrouding Foveaux Strait in mist and rain, and the Navy's Lieutenant-Commander Trevor Leslie says police have released the Navy dive squad.

HMNZS Resolution will return to its original duties in Fiordland.

One private boat with some family members on board was still looking on Sunday: the Bluff fishermen's radio operator, Meri Leask, said it was patrolling the area where the boat went down.

One person survived the sinking of the Easy Rider, which set out from Bluff on a muttonbirding trip on Wednesday evening with nine people aboard, and four bodies have been recovered so far.

On Saturday the Navy used specialised underwater cameras to photograph the boat, which is lying 40 metres down off the north-western tip of Stewart Island, but no more bodies were found inside.

The Navy has provided footage of the boat to police and transport accident investigators.

Cause sought in bits of wreckage

A spokesperson for the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, Peter Northcote, says parts of the wreckage brought to shore are being studied to try to work out what went wrong.

He says details from the post-mortems have proved helpful, as have interviews with the survivor, Dallas Reedy, who was released from hospital on Saturday afternoon.

Detective Inspector Lane Todd of the Southland police says that although the boat appears to be intact underwater, there are no plans for a salvage operation at this stage.

He says bringing the missing people home is the priority right now.

Those missing are William Karetai, 47, of Bluff, and Paul Fowler-Karetai, 40, Odin Karetai, 7, and David Fowler, 50, all of Invercargill.

The four dead have been formally identified as Shane Topi, 29, Boe Gillies, 28, John Karetai, 58, and Peter Pekamu-Bloxham, 53, all of Invercargill.

Church services in Bluff

Churches in Bluff have devoted their services to praying for the missing and their families.

The pastor of the Bluff Christian Fellowship Church, Daniel Kent, said earlier they would be praying for the families, for the recovery of bodies and for the "possibility that somebody's still alive out there and that they'll be found".

The chair of the Bluff Community Board, Jan Mitchell, says it's tough to wait for the sea to give up the missing.

"It is extremely hard for the families, obviously," she says, "and it's just as hard too in a different way for the community. People are wanting to get the people they know back."