7.12 am UPDATE



PARIS - New Zealand yachting hero Sir Peter Blake has been shot to death by pirates near the mouth of the Amazon river.



Sir Peter, aged 53, was shot and killed by armed intruders who boarded his "blakexpeditions" vessel Seamaster, anchored off Macapa at the mouth of the River Amazon, yesterday afternoon (NZT).



Sir Peter apparently died instantly despite desperate resuscitation efforts by members of the Seamaster crew.

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He is survived by his wife, Lady Pippa Blake, and their two children, Sarah-Jane and James.



The crew of Seamaster sent a message saying that seven or eight armed and hooded intruders boarded Seamaster at approximately 10.15 pm local time (1.15 pm NZT)



"Sir Peter was fatally shot and two other members of Seamaster's crew were injured, one with a gunshot wound across the back, the other with a blow to the face.



"Both injured men are back aboard Seamaster after receiving hospital treatment. The other seven Seamaster crew were badly shaken but unharmed."



Seamaster was anchored off Macapa awaiting customs clearance to depart Brazilian waters after a two-month expedition exploring the Amazon and the Rio Negro as part of the "blakexpeditions" programme to monitor the affects of global warming and pollution on the most environmentally sensitive regions of the world.



She was due to depart tomorrow for the Orinoco river, in Venezuela, to meet and pick up the "blakexpeditions" jungle team which has continued the exploration work, crossing from the Rio Negro into the head waters of the Orinoco and down to its mouth in the Caribbean.



Brazilian police are investigating.



Sir Peter won the America's Cup twice in 1995 and 2000 with Team New Zealand.

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He also won the prestigious Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989 and captured the Jules Verne Trophy in 1994 with a record-breaking non-stop voyage.



A meticulous planner and a gifted leader, Sir Peter's fierce determination to win always inspired immense loyalty from his crews and unlimited confidence from his backers.



He was the only man to compete in the first five Whitbreads and his 1989 victory in Steinlager 2 came with an unprecedented clean sweep as his team walked off with line, handicap and overall honours on each of the race's six legs.



Steinlager 2 beat a field of 23 boats from 13 countries.



Sir Peter's numerous sporting accolades included two New Zealand Sportsman of the Year awards and four New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year awards.



Following his 2000 victory in the America's Cup he was chosen to succeed the late Jacques Cousteau as captain of the marine research vessel Calypso 2 but later parted company with the Cousteau Society to form his own group Blakexpeditions.



In July he was appointed a special envoy of the United Nations Environment Programme, the first New Zealander to be chosen as goodwill ambassador for the programme.



In November last year, Sir Peter embarked on a three-month study of the South Pole's wildlife before making his way to the Amazon for eight months' sailing.



Prime Minister Helen Clark visited Sir Peter in the Amazon less than three weeks ago.



"Sir Peter was a very special person to many people around the world, highly regarded because of the man he was, because of everything he had achieved and because of everything he represented," said spokesman Alan Sefton.



"He had left behind his many major achievements in sport to dedicate himself to creating greater awareness of the need to take better care of the world in which we live.



"And, typical of the man, he was giving it his heart and soul along with all those other virtues with which he had become synonymous -- total passion, charisma, commitment, leadership and integrity."



- REUTERS



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