Gulf Livestock 1: New Zealand investigating viability of searching for missing ship's black box

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister wants answers about what happened to the missing vessel Gulf Livestock 1 and two Kiwis who were on board when it's suspected it sunk.

The ship was sailing from Napier, New Zealand to Jingtang, China last week when it activated a distress signal west of the Japanese island of Amani Oshima. The area had been lashed by a large typhoon and it's suspected the ship sunk in the poor weather.

As well as nearly 6000 cattle, 43 crew members were on board at the time, including Kiwis Lochie Bellerby and Scott Harris. Only three survivors have been found, one of whom has since died. 

Search efforts were suspended on Thursday and now Winston Peters has announced New Zealand is exploring the viability of working with its partners to search for the ship's black box. 

"We know how much it would mean to the families of those on the ship to understand more about what happened to cause this tragic loss of life," the Foreign Affairs Minister said.

"That is why officials have been instructed to investigate the viability of searching for the ship's black box - in concert with interested international partners, such as Panama, Japan, Australia, the Philippines and the ship's owners."

Peters said such a search would be difficult and expensive given the depth at which the ship is believed to have sunk. 

"But we believe it is only responsible to explore what might be possible.

"Personal engagement with my counterparts in Panama, Japan, Australia and the Philippines will be made to underline the seriousness with which the New Zealand Government is approaching this matter."

The Japanese Coast Guard says it will continue to conduct regular routine patrols of the area.

There is still hope survivors may be found.

Four life rafts are still unaccounted for, warm climatic conditions, and the presence of multiple islands near where the ship sank are providing hope people could be found alive.

"We are quite hopeful that they are floating around somewhere in a liferaft or been washed up on an island and so it is quite probable and we are hoping that they are still out there," says Guy, the father of Bellerby. 

In a statement, the company that chartered the ship said it was devastated

"It is with profound sadness that Australasian Global Exports accepts the suspension of active search and rescue operations for those missing at sea from Gulf Livestock 1," the company said in a statement.

"Having chartered the ship for this voyage, we are devastated that our three stockman and veterinarian are among the missing. We sincerely extend our deepest sympathies to their family and friends along with those of the missing crew."

Gulf Livestock 1, built in 2002, is part of the Gulf Navigation Holding fleet and sails under a Panama flag.