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Skipper among dead in Kaipara tragedy

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 26/11/2016

The search for a man still missing from the vessel that capsized in the Kaipara Harbour has been stood down because of bad weather and will resume on Monday.

Seven bodies have been recovered, including that of Francie skipper Bill McNatty and one man is still missing. Police said the missing man is likely to have died and the search is a recovery operation.

There is no sign of the launch used for fishing charters and police are asking members of the public not to take any debris they find and to report it immediately.

"This is one of the largest maritime disasters in recent times," Inspector Mark Fergus said.

The 10 clients on the fishing charter were a group of men of Pacific Islands descent from families living in New Zealand.

Their names are starting to emerge on social media. On Sunday, there were close to 40 cars at the Manurewa property of a family that lost two Tongan cousins in the tragedy, the NZ Herald reports.

The boat capsized in treacherous conditions with waves up to four metres with just one man making it back to shore.

Rescuers battled the waves to winch two men to safety.

The men left at 6.30am on Saturday and fished in the inner harbour before crossing the Kaipara Bar at about midday.

The skipper advised the Coastguard the vessel was heading back over the bar but did not check in an hour later as indicated. Fruitless attempts were made to contact the vessel before a search was launched.

Inspector Willi Fanene says the men were friends aged between 31 and 59 who liked to go fishing together.

Four of the dead men were Tongan, one was Samoan and one was from the Cook Islands. The missing man is believed to be of Cook Islands decent.

Of the three survivors, two are Tongan and one is a believed to be of Cook Islands decent. All have been discharged from hospital and have given brief statements and will be interviewed further.

There's no sign of the Francie, a 12-metre steel launch.

There were life jackets on board but it's not known if the men were wearing them.

There are any number of explanations as to why the vessel has floundered, police said.

Kaipara Cruising Club committee member Mark Tuuta said Mr McNatty was being mourned by club members.

"We're all gutted," he told NZ Newswire.

"He was up there with one of the best. He just made a mistake."

He said members had been arriving at the club to pay their respects throughout the morning, and Mr McNatty's distressed daughter, 23-year-old Kathleen-Jane Hotere, had also visited.

"She was just distraught. She was very close to her father."

Two investigators from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission are working on case.

Police are also investigating on behalf of the coroner.

"They are working to establish exactly what happened and what led to the circumstances of this terrible day," Insp Fergus said.

"We will be assessing whether there is any culpability."

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