Bodies found drifting in liferaft
By Derek Cheng
There was no sign of a third crew member.
A helicopter pilot spotted the raft 13km off the coast about midday and the coastguard recovered it around 2pm.
Police later confirmed that the raft was from the 13m Mi Jay, which left Nelson on a fishing trip on November 22.
The boat had been expected to return to land by December 6.
An extensive 12-day search involving Air Force Orions, helicopters and other aircraft failed to find any sign of the Mi Jay, skipper Paul Rees, 52, or crewmen Wiremu Te Kapu Tawhiti, 53, and Cedric James, 52.
A post-mortem today is expected to formally identify the two bodies.
Sergeant Ian Langridge of Nelson police said questions remained over what happened to the crew and the fate of the third man.
Further investigation of the liferaft today might offer clues to the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
Mr Langridge could not say how long the men had been in the raft, or comment on what supplies it had.
A healthy person can survive for up to three weeks without food, but only three days without water.
Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesman Steve Corbett said Maritime New Zealand would launch a full investigation today.
"The crew would have had to abandon the Mi Jay. We'll be looking at any clues in the liferaft or on the bodies ... What condition they were in or what the circumstances were.
"It's a mystery. The first thing to look at is any clues to the third man's whereabouts."
The raft was found in the same area covered by search and rescue teams looking for the boat.
The rescue centre had searched for the Mi Jay from December 6, but called off the official search on Saturday because it felt that all possible avenues had been exhausted.
Mr Corbett it was too early to say how the search - which included an Orion covering 86,000sq km off Canterbury and helicopters scouring 570km of coastline - managed to miss the liferaft. "Obviously we'll be looking at that."
The search also anticipated drift patterns and covered a 17,000sq km area southwest of the Chathams.
Mr Corbett said it was too early to say what impact the weather and sea conditions could have had.
The lack of information about the boat's movements had been a constant challenge throughout the search operation, he said.
"The only thing definite that we knew was when it left Nelson."
The Mi Jay had about 20 days' worth of fuel, and radio equipment, but failed to respond to broadcast signals.
Last night Charlie Rees, brother of the Mi Jay's captain, did not want to comment.
He had vowed to continue looking after the official search was called off and had remained hopeful of finding his brother alive.
Friend Moira Petersen said that all three on board the Mi Jay were experienced fishermen.
While small, the Mi Jay was a strong, steel-hulled boat, she said.
"I don't think it would be something that would be sunk easily.
"Something would have had to hit it, or they would have had to hit something."