Whale sinks launch, passengers rescued

A launch carrying five adults and two children sank off Northland today after being hit by a whale.

The launch was earlier believed to have been holed after hitting a submerged object, possibly a rock, about 4 nautical miles off Cape Brett. But a relative of the skipper told Newstalk ZB the boat's rudder was hit by a whale.

He said his brother phoned him from the boat and he could hear the children screaming.

A distress signal was received at the Rescue Co-ordination Centre this morning, reporting the launch as being in difficulty off the Bay of Islands at about 7.30am..

The centre, Maritime Operations, the Coastguard and a helicopter were sent to rescue them.

All seven people managed to get into a life raft from the 50-foot (16m) vessel and the Coastguard and private vessels located them after they were sighted by the helicopter.

The launch had sunk and all were lifted from the dinghy and returned safely to Waitangi wharf. No-one was injured.

Coastguard northern region duty officer Jo Ottey said the boat had been holidaying in the Bay of Islands and was returning home to Auckland.

The skipper put out a distress call that the boat was taking on water.

Ms Ottey said there had been a slight delay in locating the dinghy as it was in a different position to where rescuers were initially heading.

"The skipper has noted that they heard a loud bang and then they started to take on water. So they suspect they have hit something but they're unsure at this stage as to what," Ms Ottey said.

"It's just one of those things. If something is submerged you're not necessarily going to see it."

No one was injured.

- HERALD ONLINE STAFF, NZPA, NEWSTALK ZB

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