NZ boat flips, 5 die in possible whale hit

·2-min read

Five people in New Zealand have died after a small charter boat capsized in what may have been a collision with a whale.

Another six people on board the boat were rescued.

Police said the 8.5 metre boat overturned near the South Island town of Kaikoura on Saturday. They are continuing to investigate the cause of the accident.

Kaikoura Police Sergeant Matt Boyce described it as a devastating and unprecedented event.

"Our thoughts are with everyone involved, including the victims and their families, their local communities, and emergency services personnel," Boyce said.

He said police divers had recovered the bodies of all those who had died.

All six survivors were assessed to be in stable condition at a local health centre, with one transferred to a hospital in Christchurch as a precaution.

Kaikoura Mayor Craig Mackle said the water was dead calm at the time of the accident and the assumption was that a whale had surfaced from beneath the boat.

He said there were some sperm whales in the area and also some humpback whales travelling through.

He said locals had helped with the rescue efforts throughout the day but the mood in the town was "sombre" because the water was so cold and they feared for the outcome of anybody who had fallen overboard.

Mackle said he'd thought in the past about the possibility of a boat and whale colliding, given the number of whales that frequent the region.

"It always plays on your mind that it could happen," he said, adding that he hadn't heard about any previous such accidents.

Mackle said the boat was a fishing charter vessel.

Kaikoura is a popular whale-watching destination.

Compliance agency Maritime New Zealand said it sent two investigators to the scene and would be conducting a thorough investigation once recovery operations had concluded.

Principal Investigator Tracy Phillips said the agency "offers its heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of the people who have died".