Castaway’s ‘Wilson’ makes tragic real life appearance in Southland

Invercargill locals are in shock over what has been described as New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster since the Wahine in 1968. An 11-metre fishing boat, the Easy Rider, capsized in Foveaux Strait on Wednesday March 14 with nine people on board. Only one person is thought to have survived, with four bodies having been recovered and four still missing at the time Critic went to print.

A rogue wave upturned the boat just after midnight, allowing no time for emergency action. According to the Invercargill Mayoral office, rogue waves of this kind are common in the area given the shallow waters. “The sea floor is only 46 metres deep,” said Aisha Williams, PA to Mayor Tim Shadbolt. At the time of the incident the Foveaux faced heavy rain, gale force winds and a four-metre swell.

Dallas Reedy, the only survivor, sought safety by clinging to the hull of the upturned boat for two hours before it sank. No other signs of life were heard in the area. With the help of a petrol can, that he aptly named “Wilson”, Mr. Reedy managed to stay afloat for a further 16 hours before he was rescued. “I sang to him. I talked to him. I just did everything I could to stay alive ... I’m rapt to be here, I didn’t want to die, I fought hard to stay alive for my family.”

While the wreck of the Easy Rider has been located on the sea floor near the Northern tip of Stewart Island, the families still wait for news of their loved ones. According to Southland Police Area Commander Inspector Lane Todd, “Police had hoped for a better outcome at this stage, and our thoughts and sympathies remain with all families involved … We continue to support the families with our iwi liaison officers and victim support teams.”

Since 2006, 17 people have died in the Strait, 14 of whom were on Muttonbirding expeditions. Muttonbirding is an annual event “based purely on a fiercely protected customary right,” according to Tahu Potiki of the Otakou Runanga, and “the bulk do it for pecuniary gain.” Although some of those involved in the seasonal harvesting of seabirds have moved towards helicopters, the area is not well regulated or monitored according to Mr. Potiki, and the possibility of people investing in bigger ships to tackle the fierce waters for this activity is slim.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt has raised questions about the dangers surrounding Muttonbirding. He has confirmed plans to talk with Ngai Tahu representatives in a bid to prevent any future tragedies in the Foveaux area.
This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2012.
Posted 4:26pm Sunday 25th March 2012 by Sasha Borissenko.