The grandmother of missing Sealord crewman Pātahi Kawana Jnr says the family is still hoping and praying for his return.

But in her heart she knows he won't return alive.

The 25-year-old fell from the FV Ōtākou, near Cape Palliser in Wellington on Thursday morning.

Read more: Missing Sealord crewman who fell overboard near Cape Palliser named
Ocean rescue underway for Sealord employee who fell overboard off the Wellington coast


Lois Kawana said the family was coping with his disappearance.

"All we can do is just hope and pray," she said.

"It's just a waiting period for us."

However, she said in her heart she felt he would not be coming home.

"But I could be wrong."

She described he grandson as a wonderful boy who loved the sea.

"As a baby, as a little child, he was in my pocket.

"He would give you his last dime if you needed it."

She said she kept in regular contact with her grandson, despite him being away at sea, and he would always message when he saw she was online.

She talked to him about three weeks ago, and said it was a just a normal conversation.

He was part of a large but close knit family with two sisters and five brothers.

Pātahi Rewi Hawaikirangi Kawana Jnr was born in Hastings, but moved with his family to Dargaville when he was a child.

Kawana said he loved the sea, and she could not pinpoint exactly when that love began.

When he was a teenager he spent time on the R Tucker Thompson, a sailing ship based in the Bay of Islands, and was involved in work experience aboard the vessel, helping out on day voyages.

"There are people on board from all different countries," he told the Northland Age in 2010.

"I get to show them how to sail the ship, and furl the topsails, which is pretty cool. The crew and this experience have been awesome."

At the time he was described as having a natural affinity for heights.

It was noticed Kawana was missing when a full muster was conducted around mid-morning on Thursday after the crew onboard the Ōtākou fishing vessel noticed he hadn't reported for duty.

Patahi Kawana is believed to have fallen overboard.
Patahi Kawana is believed to have fallen overboard.

He was not on active duty at the time of going missing. Spokesman for the Rescue Coordination Centre said he was not wearing a life jacket at the time of going into the water.

It was believe he could have been in the water up to 50 minutes before the Rescue Coordination Centre was notified about the incident.

Wellington Life Flight and the New Zealand defence force both sent helicopters to aid the search, as well as the fishing vessel, a police launch and two other nearby vessels.

A statement from Sealord on Friday evening confirmed the search for Kawana, which had been going since mid-morning on Thursday, would not be continued.

"Deteriorating weather conditions in the area have contributed to this decision,'' the company said.

"Sealord is deeply saddened by this tragic event and extends their sympathy and support to the family and friends of Pātahi, crew of Ōtākou and Sealord staff.''

Sealord says it has now started its own investigation into the incident.