Enchanter’s charter tragedy: Capsized fishing boat recovered in ‘tough’ salvage operation

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The wreckage of the Enchanter after it ran aground near the motorhome at Houhora Heads. Photo/TACI

It took a council vessel, a team of divers and flotation bags to finally retrieve the wreckage of the Enchanter fishing boat from the sea floor.

The Mangōnui-based charter boat capsized off Murimotu, near the North Cape, in wild weather on March 20.

Five of the 10 men on board died and the other five were towed away by the Northland rescue helicopter.

The tragedy is being investigated by the Transport Accident Investigation Board – which reports on serious air, sea and rail accidents – as well as the police, Maritime NZ and possibly WorkSafe.

Examination of the wreckage is a key part of any investigation, but in this case the hull rolled and sank while being towed to the port of Houhora by salvage companies on March 23.

Initially it was thought to be too deep and too expensive for a second salvage attempt, said Northland Harbor Master Jim Lyle.

”But we got another look and the divers felt it could be done. The insurers agreed, so we came back and lifted it 26 meters,” he said.

The ‘delicate’ rescue took place on March 31 and involved a Northland Regional Council vessel, professional divers and dive bags to float the wreckage to the surface.

It was then towed to Houhora Heads and stranded near the RV, where a tow truck pulled it ashore.

Investigators from the TAIC, which was in charge of the operation, examined the wreckage on site on April 1.

Lyle said the ship was too big to take out of the water at the Pukenui wharf. A crane barge, which had been brought in for the first rescue attempt, was long gone.

The rescue was deliberately kept low-key, with details only beginning to emerge this week.

TAIC spokesman Simon Pleasant said the wreckage had since been removed and because it was evidence in an ongoing investigation, stored in a safe place.

TAIC investigators had now spoken to everyone they needed for the first part of the evidence-gathering phase.

It was possible that further interviews would be required as the investigation progressed.

”We are still at the very beginning of the investigation into this tragedy. This is a terrible thing for all the families involved.”

The evidence-gathering phase was to continue for several months.

This would include collecting meteorological data, any navigational data that could be obtained, and information on other vessels at sea at the time.

“We will build on all of this, talk to those involved and review the physical evidence,” Pleasant said.

The investigation will go through several stages before a final report details what needs to be done to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

”We don’t blame. We are forward-looking and keen to establish the broader circumstances of what leads to an accident rather than just the immediate causes.”

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