Five people died in New Zealand after a boat with 11 people capsized near the South Island on Saturday. Reports suggest that a whale toppled the boat, but the police hasn’t confirmed it yet. People aboard the boat were from a bird-watching group, which overturned in calm waters soon after 10 am at Goose Bay, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) south of Kaikoura, according to local officials.
Six people were rescued following a rescue operation that lasted nearly seven hours, while a police dive squad recovered five bodies from inside the vessel. Media reports said the skipper of the boat had survived.
“This is a tragic event that affects many lives, not least of all families and loved ones,” Kaikoura Mayor Craig Mackle said at a press conference, according to RNZ. “We’ve shut the harbour down so that they can carry on working,” he added.
The deceased haven’t been identified yet. The injured were taken to Kaikoura Health Centre, one of whom was later transferred to the Christchurch Hospital.
Earlier, images on social media showed survivors waving for help on the upturned hull of the 8.5-metre boat, which police confirmed belonged to a local charter business.
Mackle told AFP there were “indications” the boat had collided with a whale, however police wouldn’t comment on that possibility as their investigation continued.
“The information we have at the moment is it appears to be a collision. With what, we don’t know at this stage. This is an unprecedented event that has occurred, involving significant response from emergency services and members of the public,” Kaikoura Police Sergeant Matt Boyce told a press conference.
Mackle confirmed it was a time of year when whales were prevalent off Kaikoura’s coast. “Humpback whales are coming through at the moment and we have sperm whales that are resident.”
Kaikoura is a popular tourist attraction because of its abundant wildlife and boasts the country’s premier whale-watching experience.
(With inputs from agencies)