Drowned fisherman a 'real family man'

ROUGH SEAS: A fisherman has died after his boat rolled while coming over the bar near the Greymouth river mouth.
ROUGH SEAS: A fisherman has died after his boat rolled while coming over the bar near the Greymouth river mouth.

Police have released the name of the man who died after a fishing boat capsized at the mouth of the Grey River today.

He was Nicholas Brett Eklund, 36, of Greymouth.

Two other fishermen were rescued after their boat capsized in rough conditions crossing the notorious Grey River bar.

ROUGH SEAS: A fisherman has died after his boat rolled while coming over the bar in Greymouth.
ROUGH SEAS: A fisherman has died after his boat rolled while coming over the bar in Greymouth.

A fisherman who knew the deceased said he was a "good fisherman" and a "real family man".

"It's a tragedy for all of Greymouth,'' he said.

"This has put a big hole in [Greymouth's fishing industry]."

Sergeant Russell Glue, of Greymouth, said police were alerted about 7.30am today that a local fishing boat had capsized at the river's mouth while returning to port.

Two members of the public and two police officers, including Glue, helped to pull the man's body to shore.

Police and ambulance staff spent 15 minutes trying unsuccessfully to revive the man.

The remaining two crewmen - a 27-year-old with grazes and a 42-year-old Christchurch man with hypothermia - managed to reach shore after grabbing ''some sort of flotation device'' and were taken to Grey Base Hospital.

Both had been discharged by noon, a hospital spokesman said.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand spokesman Kevin Banaghan said two distress beacon notifications belonging to the 15-metre boat were received when it rolled.

The boat had since sunk close to the Grey River mouth and much debris was washing up on the riverbanks, including fish.

The Port of Greymouth issued a warning to other vessels in the area to take extra care while entering or leaving the harbour.

Glue said Maritime New Zealand would investigate, alongside police.

Police had spoken to the two survivors but he was unsure yet what had caused the boat to overturn.

However, conditions at the time were ''large seas with a strong wind'', he said.

''You only have to go down to the Blaketown tiphead and look at the memorial there to see how many fatalities we have had on the bar over the years. It's very very sad, obviously,'' he said.

Many people at the scene told The Press that sea conditions this morning were too dangerous to risk crossing the bar.

Glue thanked members of the public who assisted in the rescue.

''Without their efforts, it is fair and suspected that other fatalities could well have occurred.''

He appealed for any witnesses that police had yet to speak with to contact the Greymouth station.

The local rescue helicopter, the West Coast Coastguard and local fishing vessel Galatea helped with rescue efforts.

The West Coast Regional Council was responsible for efforts to salvage the vessel.

The Galatea managed to get over the bar to help with the rescue but was consequently stuck out at sea waiting for conditions to improve before it could return.

A witness, who declined to be named, said three men were clinging to the capsized boat at the mouth of the Grey River when he arrived at the Greymouth tiphead about 7.35am.

''One of them was yelling out at one stage.''

Within minutes, the men had let go of the boat and were floating in the water.

Two swiftly drifted around to the Cobden side of the mouth, but a third seemed to be in trouble.

''He was bobbing around in the water. I could see him going under. He would disappear, then come back,'' the witness said.

The man slowly drifted around to the Cobden side of the river.

People on the Cobdon side were trying to throw life-preserving rings to the man, but the witness was unsure if the man managed to grab one.

The witness and his work colleague said it was a ''massive sea'', with a huge swell on a low tide this morning, so the bar was unsafe to cross.

Grey District Council general manager Paul Pretorius said the blue safety light that was installed after a previous fatal capsizing on the bar was not on last night.

"There was no reason to have it on. The sea was as flat as can be. Normally when there's an easterly blowing it flattens the bar," he said.

The council was criticised for failing to implement further safety measures on the bar after the Te Anau fishing boat Koromiko rolled and two men were killed in 2000.

The council had been instructed to install accurate monitoring equipment at the bar, instate an experienced harbourmaster to take responsibility for vessel movements across the bar, and install a signal to indicate dangerous conditions.

As the port was "operating on a deficit" it had decided not to have a harbourmaster, Pretorius said.

There was no port manager either.

"We survey the bar on a regular basis and that's what were doing," he said.

"A harbourmaster would not have stopped this morning from happening."

Pretorius said there were "no safety measures" that could be put in place other than insisting the skipper "knows what he's doing", people knew the conditions and were well prepared.

"It's one of the most dangerous bars in the country; that is a reality. Even very experienced fishermen get caught out on the bar," he said.

Greymouth Coastguard spokesman Doug Griffin said the Grey River bar was a well-known hot spot for boating tragedies.

There was "no simple answer" as to why the bar was notorious for accidents, he said, but it was generally a combination of skill level, sea conditions and the boat.

"There's a whole raft of reasons why people come aground on the bar," he said.

"All the bars [in New Zealand] are dangerous. You've got to approach them with due care and know what you're doing."

The Press