Sinking survivor tells of child's screams

The sole survivor of a boat capsize in Foveaux Strait which claimed the lives of eight people heard the screams of the only child on board just after a massive wave swamped the vessel in the middle of the night, a court has heard.

Dallas Reedy, 46, told Invercargill District Court the Easy Rider left Bluff at 8pm on March 14, 2012.

Just before midnight, two people were asleep on bunks below decks, four were in the wheelhouse and Mr Reedy - a deckhand on the vessel, and two seasick passengers were on deck.

Odin Karetai, 7, was in the wheelhouse asleep on his father's knee.

"I listened to midnight radio news. I heard the announcer say it was 12.03am. Then a rogue wave hit ... from the starboard side. I could hear it coming before I saw it. It was an unnatural noise like a jet [aeroplane] roaring."

The huge wall of "black water as far as the eye could see" was so big he could not see the wave's crest, Mr Reedy said.

It crashed over the wheelhouse and swamped the deck. The boat listed before flipping.

"A second rush of water washed me off the boat into the sea. I heard the wee guy Odin screaming, then the scream was cut off. I didn't see him or any of the others after that."

Mr Reedy said he managed to get up on to the upturned hull. He banged on it but there was no response. He climbed up the hull and wedged himself beside the propeller where he remained for about two and a half hours.

"I heard a hissing noise and knew the boat was going down. I jumped into the sea. A red plastic petrol container popped up beside me. I didn't see anything else from the boat - no wood or anything."

Mr Reedy spent 18 hours in the water clinging to a plastic container before he was rescued.

The boat, which was skippered by his long-time friend Rewai Karetai, was taking six passengers off at the Muttonbird Islands before heading out on a commercial fishing trip when the accident happened.

Mr Karetai's widow, Gloria Davis, the sole director of AZ1 Enterprises which owned Easy Rider, is on trial on 10 Maritime New Zealand charges against herself or her company to do with the safe operation of the vessel.

Davis is representing herself but has assistance from Invercargill lawyer Jeff Walker, who has been appointed a friend of the court.

Evidence has already been heard that Mr Karetai took passengers on Easy Rider when he was not permitted to do so, overloaded his boat, stored too much equipment on the deck above the boat's centre of gravity, and did not carry enough life jackets for all on board.

He did not hold a skipper's certificate and left port while a routine safety inspection of his boat was under way but not completed.

He also left port at night when the weather forecast was for strong winds and rough seas.

Asked by Mr Walker if he knew Mr Karetai did not hold a skipper's ticket, Mr Reedy said he did not.

"I took it for granted he did. I didn't ask him about it. It's not the sort of thing you do - ask your boss if they are qualified. I wanted a job. Asking him if he had a ticket might have scared him off."

Mr Walker: "Was there anything abut his seamanship which made you think he might not have a skipper's ticket?"

Mr Reedy: "Just the opposite. I felt he was a first-class fisherman ... I would have sailed with him anywhere."

He said before the rogue wave hit there was nothing about the trip or the conditions which caused him concern and that he had never seen such a wave in his 10 years at sea.

"Never. Not once."

Davis asked Mr Reedy if he would have got on Easy Rider if he had had thought it was unsafe and overloaded, and Mr Reedy replied he would not.

Senior Sergeant Richard McPhail said a major search for Easy Rider began on the afternoon of March 15.

Four bodies were recovered within 24 hours but the other four were never found.

The wreckage of Easy Rider was searched on March 16 but no bodies were found on board. The liferaft was still strapped in place and the emergency locator beacon was still flashing.

The trial continues today.