Police say five people on board a small run-about boat are “lucky to escape” after it sunk between Matu Island and Seaview Wharf, in Lower Hutt.
On Sunday at around 7pm the boat sank, forcing the five on board to tread water to get themselves to safety.
“We got the call once one of the survivors had swum to shore but the communications were fairly scratchy, possibly due to a wet phone being used,” Wellington Police Maritime Unit’s Sergeant Richard Kennedy said in a statement on Tuesday.
Sgt Kennedy said because it was getting late in the day, they had Search and Rescue on standby just in case.
“The fact they were all wearing life jackets has saved their lives,” Sgt Kennedy said.
“At least one of the five was not a strong or confident swimmer, so that lifejacket would have made the difference between life and death.”
All five on board survived the ordeal but three of them suffered from hypothermia due to the long amount of time they spent in the ocean.
Skipper Kerry McIvor of the ‘Hustler’ boat said he was glad everyone on board was wearing a life jacket.
“We had the life jackets and we had our mobile phones to call for help if we needed to,” McIvor said in the police statement on Tuesday.
McIvor said they had anchored between Maitu Island and Petone to fish when the boat began to sink.
“We pulled the anchor up and began motoring back to Seaview but the water coming on board was too great,” McIvor said.
“The stern went under and the boat sank a few hundred metres off Seaview Wharf and all of us ended up in the water.”
McIvor said he and one of the other people on board swam about a kilometre to shore and raised the alarm.
“My mate held his mobile phone above his head the whole way,” McIvor said.
Sgt Kennedy said it was great they wearing life jackets and had a cell phone, however it would’ve been better if they put the cell phone in a water-proof bag to call for help earlier.
“Once your comms are wet, they are almost impossible to use,” Sgt Kennedy said.
“While a Marine VHF radio or a beacon (Emergency Positioning Radio Beacon – EPIRB) are not always accessible to everyone, they too can be lifesaving pieces of boat safety equipment.”
Those devices were not on the boat.
Sgt Kennedy said three who didn’t swim to shore were stuck waiting for help for nearly an hour after the boat sunk before they were rescued.
“They were rescued by Police Rhib Hukatai and taken to hospital for treatment for hypothermia, but ‘Hustler’ was nowhere to be found,” Sgt Kennedy said.
Police said they thought the ‘Hustler’ boat had sunk but another skipper from a commercial fishing boat near Wellington Harbour noticed a partially-submerged boat drifting out in the shipping lane at the harbour entrance, on Monday morning at around 9am.
“The skipper contacted authorities and the Police Maritime Unit removed the hazard which turned out to be the missing vessel ‘Hustler,” police said.