Teuila Fuatai

Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Fishermen setting nets should wear lifejackets - coroner

Otumakavalu Vehikite was one of four who drowned at Kariotahu Beach in 2011. Photo / Supplied
Otumakavalu Vehikite was one of four who drowned at Kariotahu Beach in 2011. Photo / Supplied

Fishing enthusiasts keen to set nets at a popular, but dangerous, Auckland beach should be wearing lifejackets, a coroner says.

Coroner Tim Scott called for the practice after investigating the deaths of four fishermen at Karioitahi Beach in 2011.

The men, who were from two different fishing groups, died within four days of each other after running into trouble while trying to set fishing nets in the surf.

None of the four were wearing lifejackets. They all died from drowning, Coroner Scott's findings showed.

Brothers Aisea Inoke, 40, and Makamapuhia Inoke, 38, and their friend Hohapi Pepa, 41, had two children with them when things went wrong on October 24, 2011.

The children witnessed the entire event.

"The men's intention was to set a fishing net off the beach but close to the shore. They would do this by wading out with the net and securing it in the one place," Coroner Scott said.

"Although it is not known exactly what happened, the three men got into difficulties, they lost the net and they were swept out to sea."

A sea and air rescue operation was launched but the trio could not be saved. Mr Pepa was found that day, but it took several days for the bodies of the Inoke brothers to be recovered.

In the second incident at the same beach - four days later - Otumaka Vehikite, 32, drowned after being swept out to sea while setting a fishing net with two friends.

Sione Valu, Mr Vehikite's brother-in-law, told Coroner Scott seaweed became tangled in the net while they were trying to set it.

The third man in their group had let go of the net and started calling for help, Coroner Scott's findings stated.

Mr Vehikite and Mr Valu were dragged about 200 metres out to sea before becoming separated by a large wave.

Mr Valu - who was wearing a life jacket - was eventually washed up on the beach by the tide and waves. Mr Vehikite's body was recovered the next day.

At the time, Mr Valu said the rough conditions had made it too difficult to help Mr Vehikite.

"When I managed to get close to him he grabbed me by the shoulder but didn't have a good grip. He pushed me under and I couldn't breathe," he told the Herald on Sunday.

"A wave came up pouring on top of us. We couldn't breathe and that's how he let go of me. I saw him start drifting from me. I tried to swim to him and I couldn't get enough breath and couldn't get any closer."

Coroner Scott said the two drowning incidents demonstrated the importance of life jackets.

"I am not advocating that the wearing of life jackets should be compulsory whilst net fishing, but it would seem to be a good idea - possibly a life saver."

***

Coroner Tim Scott: Karioitahi fishing deaths

* All four men who died had been set net fishing at the beach before

* It may be appropriate for signs to be erected at the spot where the men died, and at the beach access entrance near the surf club warning of the danger in clear, simple language. Simple pictures illustrating the dangers should also be considered.

- APNZ

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