White Island boat fire 'scary'

  • 19/01/2016
The cause of the fire is still under investigation (Supplied)
The cause of the fire is still under investigation (Supplied)

A shoreline search has found debris from the burnt-out boat which sunk on its way back from White Island yesterday, and it is thought the fire burned much of the vessel's fuel.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council confirmed this afternoon there has not been any oily debris found on the Whakatane coast from the fire on the White Island tour vessel PeeJay V.

All 60 people on board managed to escape the flaming boat, with some describing the horrific scenes before they had to jump overboard.

Four were taken to hospital, one suffering from smoke inhalation while the others had minor injuries from jumping off the vessel.

Today, assessment teams from the council, the Department of Conservation and Ngati Awa checked the Coastlands to Whakatane and Rangitaiki river mouths, Otawairere Bay and Ohope Beach, Moutohora and Raurima's islands.

Debris covering around an area of 400m in length on the Opihi coastlands has been found.

"This debris is burnt material that has washed ashore, with no oil or adverse environmental effects evident," the council says.

"It is anticipated that the intensity of the fire that consumed the vessel will reduce the likelihood of any environmental effects."

They say bad weather is stopping further assessment of the wreckage, but the coastline will be monitored over the next few days.

Australian tourist Brendan Paterson was on the ship when the fire broke out and watched the horror unfold.

"[I] just noticed very large flames coming out the side of the boat down near the waterline  and at that stage it was just a case of jump[ing] in and there were the two dinghies, the inflatables, picking people up," he said.

"Watching two kids jump into that water wasn't fun, it was awful. So that was just a pretty scary moment."

Managing director of White Island Tours, Peter Tait, says despite being shaken, passengers seemed not to hold any ill-will towards the company.

"It's not something they wanted to happen on their trip to White Island but going by their reaction at the end when everyone was deployed to the Coastguard hut and from a couple of speeches that the passengers did, they were overwhelmed by the help.

"Obviously there's a full investigation and Maritime New Zealand's involved, so we don't know the process yet, but we know that we've covered all our…everything was done textbook to get everyone off safely."

"There wasn't much left of the boat so it shouldn't be a boating hazard at all," says Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne.

"It's in shallow-enough waters so they'll be trying to get to it to see if they can discover how the fire started because I know it went very, very quickly."

RadioLIVE / 3 News