5 May 2019

Three people charged over killing of NZ sailor in Panama

6:51 pm on 5 May 2019

The wife of a man killed by pirates after they boarded his family's yacht in Panama is today facing the three accused assailants in court.

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Derryn and Alan Culverwell. Photo: Supplied

Alan Culverwell died in the attack in a remote part of Guna Yala, on Central American country's north-eastern coast, on May 2.

His wife and 11-year-old daughter were also injured.

According to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family, they'd been "cruising the Caribbean" for the past two years and were en route to the Panama Canal on their voyage back to New Zealand at the time.

Three people have been arrested in connection with the attack.

Ms Culverwell's friend Rebecca Woledge of Marlborough said she took the initial call while the attack was in progress.

"I immediately called my husband who then returned home to get the rescue underway for the Culverwell family. They are dear friends of ours.

"We were solely focussed on getting them help from then on. We would like to thank all of those who were involved in what was the longest night of our lives.

"We are devastated and would appreciate privacy at this time and have no further comments to make."

Two men appeared in court charged with aggravated homicide, robbery, criminal association and mistreatment of a minor.

The third suspect, a 17-year-old, appeared earlier to face several charges including murder, attempted murder and robbery.

Mr Culverwell's sister, Derryn Hughes, said his wife, who's also called Derryn, today attended the teenager's court hearing, in which he was remanded in custody for 12 months while the prosecution prepares its case.

She is thought to have attended both court hearings.

"It's been a roller coaster," Ms Hughes said.

"And you get a bit frustrated being over here when you want to be there. But we've got elderly parents in New Zealand so I can't go. They're struggling a lot."

Mr Culverwell's stepson and two of his close friends have arrived in Panama to support the family.

Ms Hughes said his wife and two 11-year-old children were doing remarkably, considering what they had been through.

They were extremely grateful for the messages of support and financial donations to help them get Mr Culverwell's body and the family back to New Zealand.

Over $20,000 has so far been donated to them through a GoFundMe appeal.

Ms Hughes said the messages of condolence had been "very valuable."

"And when you think about what the country has been through this year, and all the donations that have also gone towards other causes, it's really quite amazing how generous people have been."

Ms Culverwell was trying to read and respond to as many messages as she could.

Panama President Juan Carlos Varela has apologised to the Culverwell family in a television broadcast and vowed that the attackers would pay for their crimes.

In a Facebook post shortly after the attack, Ms Hughes said Mr Culverwell was a "dedicated, loving husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend to all. His family were his everything!"

"Nothing could have prepared us for the attack that took place overnight and has tragically taken Alan's life. We want to assure you all that Derryn and the children are safe, while understandably traumatized.

"We are so grateful that they survived this attack and we will work as a family to support them through the coming days, weeks, months and years."