About 100 people turned up on Saturday to mark the 40th anniversary of Northland's worst maritime tragedy, the Capitaine Bougainville disaster that led to the deaths of 16 people.

Floral tributes laid at the Capitaine Bougainville memorial. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Floral tributes laid at the Capitaine Bougainville memorial. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The ship's captain, Frenchman Jean-Raymond Thomas - who lost his New Zealand wife, Philippa, infant daughter and two stepchildren in the tragedy - was at the ceremony at the Capitaine Bougainville Memorial at Whananaki South on Saturday to mark the anniversary.

Local land owner Don Pullman at the 40-year anniversary of the Capitaine Bougainville tragedy on Saturday. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Local land owner Don Pullman at the 40-year anniversary of the Capitaine Bougainville tragedy on Saturday. Photo / Michael Cunningham

An engine-room fire and atrocious weather claimed the freighter on September 3, 1975, off the Whananaki coast. The 3614-tonne cargo vessel, carrying a crew of 29 and eight passengers, was en route from Auckland to Sydney. It was taking meat and dairy products, but a fire broke out in the engine room and crew and passengers were forced to abandon it.

A bell was rung after each name on the monument was read out. Photo / Michael Cunningham
A bell was rung after each name on the monument was read out. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Benoit Marcenac, managing director of Sofrana Unilines, which owned the ship, said while Saturday's ceremony was a solemn affair, it was clear that the local community was affected by the tragedy and was determined to keep alive the names of the dead.

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Captain Jean-Raymond Thomas reads the names of the 16 who died. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Captain Jean-Raymond Thomas reads the names of the 16 who died. Photo / Michael Cunningham

"The local community really made the day on Saturday, with the number of people that came along and their commitment to the memorial. They have done a marvellous job and particularly Ian Peters did a great job helping with things," Mr Marcenac said.

Northland Sofrana Unilines managing director Benoit Marcenac speaks at the commemorative service. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Northland Sofrana Unilines managing director Benoit Marcenac speaks at the commemorative service. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Mr Thomas read out the names of the 16 dead, with a bell accompanying each name. His voice broke though as he read the 16th and last name, that of his daughter Yasmin Thomas.

40 year anniversary, Capitaine Bougainville commemorative service. Te Warahi Hetaraka speaks at the service. Photo / Michael Cunningham
40 year anniversary, Capitaine Bougainville commemorative service. Te Warahi Hetaraka speaks at the service. Photo / Michael Cunningham

He also praised the efforts of Ngatiwai - fellow "people of the sea" - for their commitment to the site, and local landowners.

Mr Thomas said he felt it was a miracle that so many did survive the disaster, but passengers and crew waiting calmly to be rescued, while the sea raged around them, helped.

"Maybe it's a miracle, but I also had a very, very good crew." Two other survivors of the tragedy also attended the ceremony.

Northern Advocate photographer Michael Cunningham went along to capture the commemorations.