Aunt defends Easy Rider victim

By Kate Shuttleworth, Vaughan Elder

A haka was directed at the media outside the marae. Photo / Vaughan Elder
A haka was directed at the media outside the marae. Photo / Vaughan Elder

Grieving relatives of the victims of the Easy Rider maritime tragedy have been stung by criticism that the fishermen acted recklessly.

Anne Topi Patuki, whose nephew Shane Topi is one of four confirmed fatalities, also lost four family members in the Kotuku sinking in 2006.

Patuki defended the tradition of muttonbird harvesting in the deep south. "The worst thing on top of what we're going through is people making self-righteous judgments," she said.

Muttonbirding was part of their heritage, her family knew the sea well and did not take unnecessary risks, she said.

"These people know the strait well, if you're not from there you have no idea what the strait is like," she said.

"These people are not stupid or acting dangerously."

Patuki also lost four family members - Peter Topi, 78, Tania Topi, 41, and 9-year-olds Shaine Topi-Tairi and Sailor Trow-Topi - in the 2006 muttonbirding accident.

Yesterday, divers continued a search for any sign of the four still missing while family members attended a meeting at 11am yesterday at a local marae.

Afterwards they asked to be left alone, with some of the family members confronting the media outside with a haka.

The Invercargill and Bluff community was also awaiting news, with many connected to the families of those on board.

Nine people were on board the vessel when it sank after being hit by a rogue wave just after midnight on Wednesday.

The only survivor, Dallas Reedy, 44, was rescued after clinging to a petrol can for 18 hours.

Four bodies - Topi, John Karetai, Boe Gillies and Peter Pekamu-Bloxham - have been recovered.

Southland area commander Inspector Lane Todd said a decision about the approach of today's search would be made this morning.

Fixed-wing aircraft as well as Coastguard vessels would be used to conduct a more thorough shore search, he said.

The dive teams had "thoroughly searched" the vessel but no sign of the four missing people had been found.

The priority of the search was still to "do as much as we can to bring these missing people back to their families," he said.

Transport Accident Investigation Commission investigators have been in Invercargill since Friday.

Communications manager Peter Northcote said they were just beginning their inquiry.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 17 Apr 2014 19:39:46 Processing Time: 579ms