NZ Police say five people onboard a small runabout were “lucky to escape” after their vessel sank between Matiu/Somes Island and Seaview Wharf.
The incident took place at about 7pm on Sunday, 19 February, leaving them treading water in the sea.
“We got the call once one of the survivors had swum to shore but the communications were fairly scratchy, possibly due to a wet phone being used,” sergeant Richard Kennedy, Wellington Police Maritime Unit, said in a statement.
As the light was fading due to the hour of the day, a Search and Rescue was on standby.
“The fact that they were all wearing life jackets has saved their lives. At least one of the five was not a strong or confident swimmer, so that life jacket would have made the difference between life and death.”
All five onboard survived, but three suffered from hypothermia because of the amount of time spent in the water.
Kerry McIvor, skipper of the boat, said he was glad everyone onboard was wearing a life jacket.
“We had the life jackets and we had our mobile phones to call for help if we needed to.”
He added that they had anchored between Matiu/Somes Island and Petone and were fishing when they started taking on water.
“We had a bilge pump, but it couldn’t cope with the amount of water.
“We pulled the anchor up and began motoring back to Seaview but the water coming onboard was too great – the stern went under and the boat sank a few 100 metres off Seaview Wharf and all of us ended up in the water.”
Mclvor said he and one of the other people on the boat swam about one kilometre to the shore and raised the alarm.
“My mate held his mobile phone above his head the whole way.”
Sergeant Kennedy added: “it’s great that these people had life jackets and a mobile, however, if they had their communications devices in dry, water-proof bags they may have been able to call for help earlier. Once your comms are wet, they are almost impossible to use While a Marine VHF radio or a beacon (Emergency Positioning Radio Beacon – EPIRB) are not always accessible to everyone, they too can be lifesaving pieces of boat safety equipment. These were not on this vessel either.”
The three remaining boaties were in the water waiting for help for close to an hour after they sunk, the sergeant said.
They were rescued by Police Rhib Hukatai and taken to the hospital for treatment for hypothermia.
The boat Hustler was nowhere to be found and thought to have sunk, however, a skipper from a commercial fishing boat exiting Wellington Harbour noticed a partially submerged boat drifting out in the shipping lane at the harbour entrance.
“The skipper contacted authorities and the Police Maritime Unit removed the hazard, which turned out to be the missing vessel.”