Memorial planned for those lost in Foveaux

Invercargill truck driver Leon Harrison at Stirling Point, near Bluff, where he wants to erect a...
Invercargill truck driver Leon Harrison at Stirling Point, near Bluff, where he wants to erect a statue in memory of those lost in Foveaux Strait tragedies. Photo by Allison Rudd.

A memorial at Stirling Point, near Bluff, in memory of those lost in Foveaux Strait tragedies would be a comfort for grieving families and friends, two women who have lost relatives to the sea say.

Plans for a memorial statue have received a significant boost with a $10,000 corporate donation which was formally announced at a recent short ceremony at Stirling Point. Invercargill truck driver Leon Harrison launched the idea of a memorial after losing good friend Shane Topi when Easy Rider sank in March this year, killing eight.

Rena Fowler and her sister-in-law, Myrtle Karetai, who attended the ceremony, were related to all those aboard.

Mrs Karetai's son Rewai was the skipper, and Mrs Fowler lost two sons and two grandsons, among other relatives.

Mrs Fowler said a memorial would help, as it would provide a gathering place for families and friends to remember those who had been taken.

''Instead of looking out at sea and remembering our loved ones, we could read their names on a memorial and think about them.''

Those on board Easy Rider were Maori heading to islands in the strait to collect muttonbirds.

The sea was a way of life for Maori, Mrs Fowler and Mrs Karetai said.

''My son first went to sea when he was 3,'' Mrs Karetai said.

Mrs Fowler said her first boat ride was when she was 2 weeks old and was taken by her mother from Bluff, where she was born, back to Ruapuki (Stewart Island).

''Ours was a family born to the sea, and lost to the sea,'' she said.

A memorial to remember all those drowned in Foveaux Strait would please Mrs Karetai, she said.

''It will be lovely. My brother-in-law Eric Evans was lost off Omaui Island in 1971 and the memorial will be for him, too.''

Almost $12,000 has been raised through donations and small fundraising events such as sausage sizzles before the donation from Bupa Care Services. The company, which is constructing a $23 million retirement village complex in Invercargill, was ''relatively new'' to the area and wanted to make a contribution to the people of Southland, general manager of independent living Margaret Owens said.

Speaking before the ceremony, Mr Harrison said he was ''very happy indeed'' about Bupa's donation, the first corporate donation given to the fundraising committee.

''A substantial amount like this is a big boost. Now, the statue is not just a flash in the pan, it's serious.''

In the past 14 years, 23 people have died in Foveaux Strait. Mr Harrison wants to put the memorial at Stirling Point, the last headland seen when heading from Bluff into the strait.

No design or site had been finalised yet and he did not know how much the statue might cost, he said this week.

''We needed to get some money together first. Now we can think about a detailed design.''


Foveaux Strait incidents
• March, 2012: Easy Rider capsizes off Stewart Island, killing eight. One man is rescued.

• January, 2012: Two die after their catamaran is hit by a large wave and sinks. Three are rescued.

• May, 2010: One man dies after the boat he is on is struck by a large wave and overturns. Another man survives.

• May 2006: Six of the nine people aboard the Kotuku die when the boat is caught by two large waves, capsizes and sinks.

• February, 2003: A freak wave flips a boat, tossing its four passengers into the sea. All are rescued.

• November, 2001: One man dies and two are plucked from the sea after a rogue wave capsizes their dinghy.

• June, 2000: Two men rescued after their fishing vessel sinks.

• June, 1999: Four passengers on board the ferry Foveaux Express are injured after being flung to the deck by a wave.

• January, 1999: Three fishermen survive after their boat is flipped by a 3m wave.

• August, 1998: A Southern Air Cessna runs out of fuel and crashes into the water. The pilot and four passengers die but five others are rescued.


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