EXCLUSIVE: The sole survivor of the Easy Rider tragedy has spoken out this afternoon to defend his friend.
Dallas Reedy said his friend and skipper of the Easy Rider, Rewai Karetai was not a ''cowboy'' on the water.
''If Spud (Rewai) did do wrong, he had paid the ultimate price and that should be enough,'' Mr Reedy said.
The report had tarnished the character of his friend who was a good man, he said.
''Spud did not go out on purpose to drown people that day,'' he said.
The tragedy was still very much an open wound for him and all the families involved, he said.
He could understood why people were angry, he said.
There were some things in the report Mr Reedy said he disputed but he declined to go into details.
Mr Reedy said he felt for all the families involved as the tragedy kept being dragged up in the public.
An Invercargill widow says her husband was never meant to be on board the Easy Rider.
Marama Karetai-Bloxham, widow of Peter Pekamu-Bloxham, who was onboard the Easy Rider, said she was both angry and sad when she read the findings in the Transport Accident Investigation Commission report.
Her husband, a shearing contractor was on his way to go muttonbirding on the fateful night of the sinking but was never meant to be on board the Easy Rider.
''He was supposed to go with me the following week but he changed his mind at the last minute,'' she said.
The tragedy could have been more painful for Mrs Bloxham because her older children had decided to go with Mr Bloxham that night but decided not to go, she said.
''Little Odin was not supposed to go either but watched his dad get on the boat and wanted to go with him and jumped into his arms,'' she said.
''Rewai made a lot of mistakes, he called the shots that night and should have known better''.
The other men on board were not fishermen and did not know any better, she said.
The other men were only shearers, oyster openers and freezing workers who had been on boats but knew nothing about the weather or the stability of boats, she said.
''Peter was a fabulous man, a tragic waste of a life and nothing will bring him back. His family miss him so much,'' she said.
She knew Mr Karetai had been out on boats for years but did not know he was unqualified.
She had known him as a deck hand or part part of a crew and had never known him as a skipper of a vessel.
''If he had of read the weather forecast this tragedy may not have happened, I don't know what he was trying to do that night but he messed up a lot of lives...he was a silly man,'' she said.
When the tragedy happened, she did not blame Mr Karetai for a long time but during the past year new facts had come to light that had changed her mind, she said.
''Peter would have trusted Rewai, they all would have.''
She believed if her husband had known the truth, he would not have got on board the Easy Rider that tragic night and she believed the others would not have either.
''If Rewai had let that safety guy get on the boat and check it instead of avoiding him then the tragedy may not have happened.''
Reaction to the report, released today, in the south has been a mixture of disbelief and silence.
Barry Bethune, who was saved in a boating accident by Rewai Karetai, today said the TAIC report painted a damming picture of a hero, who saved lives.
''I can't find words.. he saved our lives and a month or two later he was involved in the death of eight people, it's bloody sad.''
''At the end of the day he was the skipper and it was his responsibility to ensure the safety of the people on board.''
Mr Bethune said he held skipper Rewai Karetai to blame and not his wife Gloria, who is facing maritime charges.
He welcomed the safety recommendations in the report and hoped Maritime NZ would put more rules in place so that commercial boats were well equipped.
Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said he hoped the report would help seafarers adopt better practices, as had happened after the Wahine disaster in 1968.
''Lessons have been learned from that and I just hope its the same from this tragedy.''
He was pleased to read in the findings that muttonbirders had been heeding the lessons learned after the Kotoku deaths.
However, he also believed the publication of the report would reopen the sorrows suffered by the Bluff community at the time of the Easy Rider sinking.
''They'll be feeling quite devastated by the report because, really, they're still in mourning for those that are lost.
''In the long term, hopefully, [the report] will be a benefit to others but for the families involved it will be another layer of the tragedy, to think it could have been avoided.''
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) spokesperson Steve Rendle today said it could not comment on the detail of the TAIC report as matters relating to the incident were before the court.
However, it welcomed the general safety messages in the report, he said.
MNZ had assisted TAIC with its inquiries and also conducted its own investigation, which led to charges being laid under the Maritime Transport Act 1994, the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, and the Crimes Act 1961, against the company that operated the vessel, AZ1 Enterprises Limited, and Gloria Davis, in her capacity as a director of AZ1 Enterprises.
A defended hearing for the case is scheduled for September.
Meanwhile, Bluff Community Board chairwoman Jan Mitchell this morning said she did not want to comment on the TAIC findings directly, out of respect for the families involved.
''Regardless of the findings, a ... tragedy occurred and the sympathy of our community is with the families.
''Foveaux Strait can be a dangerous stretch of water ... for even the strongest and best-equipped boats and crews.''
Bluff Fishermen's Shore Station Radio operator Meri Leask said the hurt and loss of the Easy Rider tragedy still ran deep in the Bluff community and deeper still with the families of those involved.
They families were still dealing with the findings in the report, she said.
''I think its time to show the families some respect at this time,'' she said.
Riverton harbourmaster Ian Coard, who was involved in the Easy Rider search, said he did not have an opinion about whether the vessel was loaded incorrectly, but felt strongly about maritime safety.
''We need to educate them all about using life jackets.''
Mutton-birding was a financial exercise and, while it was pleasing to see changes being made throughout the community this season, Mr Coard worried money pressures would erode these good practices over time.
''It's tradition that they go down there and they try and go down as cheaply as they can.
''We just need to remind them of what they should be doing because they might just fall back into their old ways again.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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