'Castaways' found on remote island

An expensive RNZAF Orion search and rescue has found four "castaways" on a Pacific atoll, amidst questions over whether they were really lost at all.

An investigation will start in the Cook Islands today over the loss of an old long-line fishing boat Gypsy Trader which mysteriously disappeared while its four crew were ashore on Manuae Island, an unpopulated and well-visited fishing haven.

The men were never in any danger, one of the castaways, Alfred Morris told Stuff.

"It was not tough at all," he said, "God has blessed the island with an abundance of fish and fruit and coconuts."

On their first night as castaways, the four caught 56 crayfish.

They made fish hooks and had no problem with food.

"We never had any doubts for a moment that we would be rescued."

A Pentecostalist pastor, Mr Morris is also the Chief Government Censor.

"The only hard side, which we could do nothing about, was the billions and billions of mosquitoes."

Mr Morris and his son, and Fijian skipper Joe Lasaganibau and i-Kiribati crewman Kaiea Ariu, spent 10 days on the island.

The RNZAF, who will not release the cost of the mission, said Gypsy Trader left Rarotonga on May 5 and was due back May 9.

The alarm was raised when a crew member's wife contacted Cook Island authorities when they did not return or make contact.

The RNZAF found the four on the beach, none-the-worse for wear and showing evidence of a cooking fire and good shelter.

The RNZAF called in a Cook Islands patrol boat which delivered them to Rarotonga last night.

Cook Islands police commissioner Maara Tetava told local media an investigation would be launched today, but would make no further comment.

Mr Morris said they arrived on the island in calm conditions and decided to go crayfishing.

"We were there for the fish."

They secured the boat but while away the wind came up and Gypsy Trader disappeared into the night.

Mr Morris said it was a great moment with the RNZAF Orion came over, especially when they parachuted them chocolate.

"That was nice and thank you to the government of New Zealand."

Waterfront sources say Gypsy Trader was an unregistered, uncertified old boat without any form of communications that was moored away from the main port.

Many found it a surprise that it had put to sea.

The RNZAF, who said the boat had a radio and emergency locator beacon, say the men had gone to Manuae and had gone ashore after mooring the boat.

Manuae is unpopulated but as a popular fishing and marine reserve, it is dotted with shelters for passing fishermen.

It is regarded locally as pretty close to paradise.

Manuae is the first island in the Cooks to have been visited by Captain James Cook, on September 23, 1773.

Its most famous castaway was Englishman William Marsters who was found in 1863 on the island with three wives.

He had been shipwrecked and they were taken to Palmerston Atoll. His numerous descendants remain there and speak archaic English with a Gloucestershire accent.

Manuae was used as a penal colony after Britain took over the islands in 1888, because Rarotonga had no jail.