A New Zealand Air Force Orion is searching for up to eight fishermen in three fishing boats missing off the coast of Samoa after Cyclone Evan pounded the region.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ search and rescue mission co-ordinator Tracy Brickles said it was contacted after nine fishermen and three vessels failed to return to Samoa from a fishing trip on Friday.

The skipper of one of the boats survived by clinging to flotsam after his boat sank on Friday and he was able to reach the island of Monono, between the main islands of Savai'I and Upolu. It was not known if his crew were with him.

The New Zealand Orion this morning spotted a boat washed up on Apolima Island, Ms Brickles said.


It was not known if it was one of the missing nine-metre twin-hulled aluminium boats and there was no sign of the crew.

Ms Brickles said a tug was travelling from Apia, about two hours away, to investigate.

"The focus of searching today is on coastal areas and the sea and small islands between the two main islands, as this is the area indicated by drift modelling as likely to be where the prevailing conditions would have taken the boats,' she said.

"The P3 Orion has searched for five hours and will shortly land in Apia to refuel and allow the crew to rest overnight before continuing the search tomorrow."

Tahiti search and rescue authorities were also providing a French Navy aircraft, which was due in the area this evening.