Forty years ago today, 16 people died off Whananaki in what we sometimes refer to as the Capitaine Bougainville disaster.

The Capitaine Bougainville was a freighter, registered in Noumea.

She was a 3614-tonne cargo vessel, and had left Auckland for Sydney carrying meat and dairy products, captained by Frenchman Jean-Raymond Thomas.

Capitaine Bougainville artifacts.
Capitaine Bougainville artifacts.

On Saturday, Capt Thomas will return to Northland for a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. His wife Philippa, infant daughter Yasmine and stepchildren Mua and Tano Wilson died in the tragedy.


On September 3, 1975, the sea off Northland's east coast was wild and dangerous.

At 2am, a fire had broken out. It burned with a ferocity that melted the engine room and made the ship's hull glow red.

There were 29 crew and eight passengers aboard. As they abandoned ship, the currents, wind and huge waves - some say up to 12 metres - capsized lifeboats.

On Saturday, it is likely to be raining, but those that gather at Whananaki Sth will likely gaze out to a sea much calmer than the massive swells of September 3, 1975.

Along with Capt Thomas's family, these are the people that they will remember: Alexander Balatico (radio officer), Waisea Busa (greaser), Julian Fullman (carpenter), Peter Hokau (greaser), Nawine Kaltac (ordinary seaman), Fokinga O'Brien (chief mate), Nataniela Raumano (second engineer), Tokarua Sanisoni (able seaman), Lazare Taribub (greaser), Jimmy Teti (ordinary seaman), Viliame Tevita (bosun), Jione Veu (second mate).