Body of Tongan fisherman reportedly among bodies of three men found on New Zealand’s Māhia beach

A body of a Tongan fisherman has been reportedly found on the shores of Māhia this morning.

He was named as Taina Sinoti, as tributes for the lost fishermen were posted online by anxious loved ones.

A man who appeared to be Taina’s father said “kuo’ ne tatau mai”, describing the death of his son in Tongan on Facebook.

Taina was one of three fishermen missing off the East Coast two days ago.

“Formal identification is ongoing, but they are believed to be the fishermen reported missing on Monday,” a police spokesperson said.

Earlier, two of them were spotted alive in huge seas yesterday.

The staff at Maritime NZ and its Rescue Coordination Centre this morning extended their thoughts and condolences to those impacted by the tragic events off Gisborne.

Gisborne Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club president Roger Faber was part of a group of three boats that went out on Monday. Two had turned back as the weather turned nasty, while the three fishermen were on the third boat, which went missing.

Faber told Three’s AM Show this morning the community would be “absolutely broken” to wake up to hear the three men’s bodies had been found – especially after two had been spotted alive.

”We all thought, hey we’re going to have a great outcome – but to have this news this morning is absolutely devastating,” he said.

He added the worst part was being unable to do anything.

”Every boat in this marina would have been out searching if they possibly could have, but the conditions just haven’t allowed us to do that. It’s gut wrenching.”

The Coastguard had had to turn back last night before reaching the men, due to the weather conditions.

”I know those guys, they …pride themselves in being able to do the job,” he said. “It would have been one of the hardest things they would have probably ever had to [do].”

‘Sea and weather conditions were too severe’

RCCNZ general manager Justin Allan said it was a difficult and complex search and rescue operation.

”Weather conditions in the area were severe, and rescuers went right to their limits to get to the area we received reports the people in the water were, confirm their location and attempt to remove them from the sea.

”Responders from the region, as well as rescue aircraft sourced from across the North Island had to battle atrocious conditions; including swells of up to and at times more than six metres, 50-knot winds and low visibility, showing how determined they were to reach the men in the water.

”Unfortunately, the sea and weather conditions were too severe.”

One of the missing men was named last night as Elwood Higgins, as tributes for the lost fishermen were posted online by anxious loved ones.

A woman who said she was a relative of one of the missing men made an emotional plea yesterday for her brother to be found.

“Come on my brother, [I am] breaking into pieces over here listening to this storm kicking in. Feeling sooo exhausted, scared and helpless,” she said.

“[I have] already been through enough heartbreak for this lifetime. Make your way home to us and bring your mates home with you too xx.”

“Atrocious weather conditions” hampered the desperate search last night, more 24 hours on from when authorities were told a vessel had not returned to port in Gisborne just before 4pm on Monday, Maritime New Zealand said.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Boeing P-8 Poseidon dropped a life raft in the area where the men were last seen by a bulk carrier off the coast of Mahia just after 4pm yesterday.

Coastguard, rescue helicopter trusts, Napier Harbour Tugs, the Defence Force and volunteering vessels were involved in the mass search operation.

Yesterday’s search was suspended about 7pm with an expectation it would resume at first light this morning. Rescuers examined drift patterns throughout the night and ensured enough resources were ready to continue the search.

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