Two spotted alive in search for missing fishermen

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

Two people have been spotted alive in the water off Gisborne during the search for two missing fishermen - but contact with them has since been lost.

A search was launched after a fishing boat with three people on board failed to return from a day trip on Monday.

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

"Visual contact has been lost but urgent actions to relocate are under way."

The Rescue Coordination Centre operations manager, Michael Clulow, said vessels have been sent to the location.

"We are working as quickly as possible to relocate and rescue these people in the water.

"They have been in the water for a long-time now, and will be cold and tired."

Weather conditions in the area are bad, making it extremely difficult for responders on the water and in the air.

"We are looking at a number of ways to try and safely get these people out of the water.

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those caught up in this rapidly evolving situation and are taking all practical steps to save lives," Clulow said. 

A concerned fishing party contacted police just before 4pm, after the boat failed to return from a day trip.

The last known communication of the missing boat was with another vessel before 10am on Monday, when it was about 20km off shore.

Tatapouri fishing club president Roger Faber raised the alarm when the boat failed to return to shore.

Terrible weather conditions will prevent Coastguard from continuing its sea search today, Faber said.

Helicopters were carrying out a shoreline search, but the sea was too rough to tackle, he said.

"We've got very heavy fog, heavy rain, in shore and off shore, the nor'easter is blowing very strong, it's predicted to get a lot worse this morning ... up to 50 knots with eight metre seas," he said.

"There's no way that they're putting anyone to sea to do a search in those conditions."

'Just a matter of sitting with fingers crossed'

Faber said those missing were members of the club and "very experienced" fishermen.

"They do know what they're doing, they're out there regularly."

Three boats had headed out together Monday morning, with Faber on board one of them. Two boats - his included - decided to "pull the pin" about 11am in deteriorating weather conditions, and tried to get in touch with the now missing boat to let them know, but did not hear back.

Faber's last communication with the missing boat was about 9.30am Monday, when they told him of their plans to head towards Māhia.

"We're hoping that they've been pushed ashore down that way somewhere, and are sitting on shore where there's no communications, and they're found down there."

The whānau of the three men were down by the boat ramp in Gisborne's inner harbour, Faber said.

"They're all coming back to the fishing club for a coffee, and it's really just a matter of sitting with fingers crossed, hoping for some good news."

Coastguard Gisborne, the Gisborne Rescue Helicopter, and several vessels supported the initial search on Monday evening.

Overnight, a NZDF P8 Poseidon undertook a radar search off Poverty Bay, Northern Hawke's Bay, and the Māhia Peninsula.

On Tuesday morning, a helicopter searched between Gisborne and the Māhia Peninsula.

The Rescue Coordination Centre said more aircraft would join the search as conditions allowed. Clulow said heavy rain, strong winds and large seas were forecast in the area on Tuesday, making the search challenging.

- additional reporting RNZ