The discovery of a ship that sank off the Hokianga coast more than a century ago with 499 Chinese miners on board could become a site of significance for tourists and attract businesses in a number of areas from China.

A group led by John Albert discovered the SS Ventnor under 150 metres of water about 21km west of the Hokianga Harbour in December 2012. Confirmation of its identity was made a month later.

The Hong Kong-bound vessel was on a repatriation mission to return the bodies to their families for burial, but sank just two days after setting sail from Wellington in October 1902. The location of the ship had remained a mystery, even as some of the coffins washed up on shore and the remains were buried by the local Maori.

A press conference was held yesterday where Mr Albert officially confirmed the discovery of the wreck.


Mr Albert said meetings between officials in China's Guangdong province, where most of the miners were from, have been ongoing since the vessel was discovered.

He is the leader of Ventnor Project Group which also has the likes of charter boat owners John and Linda Pattinson and underwater explorer Keith Gordon who helped in the search for the vessel.

The project group has now extended an invitation to Chinese president Xi Jinping to visit Hokianga the next time he travels to New Zealand.

Mr Jinping is currently on a three-day state visit to the country following the G20 summit in Australia last week.

Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis said the opportunities to market Northland as a destination for tourism and investment were immense.

He said the Chinese, particularly visitors from mainland China, now have another connection to the region where they could come in search of their history.

"There are also opportunities for Chinese businesses to invest in a number of areas in Northland and for attracting tourism activities.

"There could be a necessity to improve infrastructure like roads in areas like Hokianga and Mitimiti if we get more Chinese to visit up north so the sight of the wreck and places where their remains are buried could become a sight of significance for Chinese visitors," Mr Davis said.


John Klaracich of the Hokianga iwi said: "We would like to give representatives of China the opportunity to personally visit the graves of their countrymen on land and at sea, and pay respects to those pioneers who had not only helped to build our country materially, but who brought their rich and ancient culture to our land as well."

Mr Albert said finding the SS Ventnor highlighted the significant ties between China and New Zealand.

"It is important historically in terms of the early Chinese contribution to New Zealand and culturally in terms of the shared attitudes towards human remains.

"Since the time of the shipwreck, remains have drifted to shore. These have been interred and their graves cared for by local Maori."

The SS Ventnor was a British ship chartered by Dunedin businessman Choie Sew Hoy to transport the exhumed remains of Chinese men who had died in New Zealand back to their home country for reburial in a bid to follow Chinese tradition.

Mr Sew Hoy died before the ship set sail, and his body was among those lost at sea. The 13 crew on board also lost their lives when the vessel sank.