Weather hampers search after fishermen spotted

Maritime New Zealand said there had been no communication since the boat left shore and no...
Maritime New Zealand said there had been no communication since the boat left shore and no beacons had been activated. (file image) Photo: Supplied / Coastguard

The search for three missing fishermen has been suspended until first light on Wednesday, after two people were spotted in the water but then lost to sight earlier today. 

Atrocious weather is hampering attempts to rescue the pair seen in the water off the Gisborne coast.

A fishing vessel with three fishermen on board was reported missing to police yesterday afternoon.

Maritime NZ said this afternoon that crew on a container vessel, the African Tiger, saw two people in the water off the Mahia Peninsula.

They were unable to be rescued due to the dangerously difficult weather conditions.

The crew attempted to provide the men with any available rescue materials they could throw overboard, including life rings.

A third person remains missing. 

Just after 4pm today a life raft was dropped in the area where the men were seen.

The Rescue Coordination Centre NZ's general manager, Justin Allan, said this afternoon that swells and gusts associated with the severe weather conditions made it a very dangerous operation on the water and in the air.

"Swells are getting up as high as six metres and winds are gusting up to 50 knots. RCCNZ is continuing to work with a range of agencies to coordinate rescuers to attempted to safely get these men out of the water. 

"There has and continues to be support from Coastguard, rescue helicopter operators, the New Zealand Defence Force and vessels of opportunity in the area. Rescuers are continuing to do their very best in incredibly trying conditions and we are hugely grateful for their efforts."

Maritime NZ said tonight that assessments on plans for Wednesday would be made overnight, and efforts would begin again at first light. 

RCCNZ was working throughout the night to assess drift patterns, source additional onshore and offshore rescue capabilities and continues to make every effort to carry out a successful rescue.

Emergency centre open, flood warning 

Meanwhile, Gisborne District Council said high winds are downing trees and cutting power to homes in what could be a difficult night for residents.

The council has established an emergency centre in Tolaga Bay school and issued a flood warning for nearby Hikuwai River near Willow Flat.

Civil Defence officer Greg Shelton said the river level was nearing nine metres tonight, but its banks could handle up to 13 metres.

State Highway 35 is closed between Tolaga and Tokomaru Bays due to surface flooding.