Family of a Southland man missing after an animal freighter capsized in the South China Sea last week were yesterday still hopeful he would be found, but overnight the search was called off.

Lochie Bellerby was one of two New Zealanders among the 43 people who were on the cattle ship Gulf Livestock 1, which capsized during a typhoon.

Three people from the ship were found last week, only two of whom survived.

In a statement last night, Bellerby's family said they were "still hopeful for the safe return of Lochie and his fellow crewmates".

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However, ABC is reporting that the Japanese Coastguard overnight made the decision to suspend its fulltime search for the 40 people still missing from the ship.

Authorities say they will now only look for survivors as part of their regular patrols in the area.

Bellerby's family acknowledged the kindness and consideration shown by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Maritime New Zealand, New Zealand Police and Interpol, as well as "the effort and dedication of the Japanese Coastguard, the caring support of family and friends, and of the local community during this challenging time".

The family were looking forward to Bellerby's brother and his brother's Canadian partner arriving home in New Zealand.

Family spokeswoman Sue Sherburd said last night Bellerby had visited his family before travelling to Napier to board the ship, which left on August 14.