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Southland man Lochie Bellerby was aboard livestock ship Gulf Livestock 1 when it sank off the coast of Japan on September 2. He remains missing along with 39 other crew.
The family of Lochie Bellerby has accepted he won’t be coming home, more than four months after he and 39 crewmates went missing at sea off the coast of Japan.
The Bellerby family will hold a memorial gathering for their loved one on February 27.
He had been on his first trip as a stockman on the Gulf Livestock 1 ship when it capsized and sank during a typhoon on September 2.
The adventurous 28-year-old Southland man had taken the job to save money ahead of what was to be the next chapter in his life, managing and buying into the family farm near Te Anau.
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However, it wasn’t to be, with the ship sinking after earlier breaking down twice during the ill-fated journey, which began in Napier and was headed for China, Bellerby’s grieving family said.
Bellerby and fellow New Zealander Scott Harris were among 43 crew on board, along with thousands of cows, when the tragedy unfolded.
Three Filipinos were plucked from the ocean, with two surviving, but the two Kiwis and two Australians are among those still unaccounted for.
Scott Harris, 37, is one of two New Zealanders, two Australians and 36 Filipino crew still missing after export ship Gulf Livestock 1 capsized and sank off the coast of Japan on September 2.
Bellerby’s family said the memorial gathering would also remember the other 39 missing crew.
A plaque paying tribute to Bellerby would be put on a rock on the family farm and a video would be played honouring all 40 men.
Bellerby’s father, Guy, said he missed his son big time. He was a great communicator who was good at reading people, encouraged everyone, and didn’t suffer fools, Guy said.
He left home at 18 and had enjoyed many overseas adventures over the past six years.
These included trekking and motorbiking in Nepal, training sled dogs in Alaska, working as a wrangler and hunting guide in Canada, mustering cattle and fencing in outback Australia and spending five months motorcycling through South America with his brother Cam.
He had been working on a farm near Te Anau before taking the opportunity to work as a stockman on the livestock ship.
He was in text communication with his mother Lucy about five hours before the boat sank, saying they were in large waves and the crew had been instructed to remain in their cabins, but he was not displaying any concern to her.
“He wouldn’t, it wasn’t in his nature to do that,” Lucy said.
A 2019 file photo of the 11,947-ton Gulf Livestock 1 cargo vessel which capsized and sank off the coast of Japan during a typhoon on September 2. Forty-three crew and thousands of cows from New Zealand were on board. Three of the crew were plucked from the ocean, with two surviving, but the remaining 40 from the Philippines, New Zealand and Australia remain missing.
Her son was outgoing and adventurous and was always looking towards his next experience.
“He always had ideas of things that he wanted to do, and pretty much he always found a way to do them,” she said.
She learned a lot from her son’s ability to be open and honest with people, saying he had an amazing ability to make friends and encompass everybody.
“He was fun, he got people laughing. I really miss his warmth, his patience with me, and the fact he included me in everything.”
His younger sister, Fern, said her brother would always arrive with a massive grin on his face and regale his latest experience.
Older brother Cam said he spent a year with Lochie on overseas adventures, and only once, after living under a bridge in Panama when one of their motorbikes broke down, did they have a “little discussion”.
“You couldn’t ask for a better team, we never had any problems.”
During the years, Bellerby had been on many trips, often for months at a time, before always returning home.
“Rationally you accept he has gone, but it doesn’t feel like that yet because it could be just another one of his trips,” Cam said.
With the Japan Coast Guard failing to find any sign of the remaining 40 missing men, the Bellerby family put in a massive effort to find their loved one and other crew members.
They worked in conjunction with families of the missing Australian crew, co-ordinating private searches off the Japan coast.
Public donations from both countries, including about $76,000 from Givealittle, were spent on the likes of aeroplane, helicopter and satellite searches and expert marine advice.
“We had such an amazing team and so much expertise,” Lucy said.
“If anything was going to be found, it would have been found.”
They acknowledged the support provided by Maritime New Zealand, friends, and the private sector, including oceanographers.
“The love and support we received was overwhelming, people really do care about each other,” Lucy said.
However, they believed the New Zealand Government had largely failed them.
They said they had written to the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressing their concerns.
Livestock exports were worth millions to the New Zealand economy, but when things went wrong in foreign waters, with New Zealand crew members on board, they didn’t believe the Government had helped as it could have.
The Government’s communication with the family was poor, they said.
“It seems that once the ship has left these shores there’s no responsibility,” Lucy said.
They feared the same thing could happen to other families if their loved ones got into trouble when working offshore.
However, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said international convention on maritime search and rescues determined that the Japanese Government had responsibility for the Gulf Livestock 1 search and rescue, as the incident occurred in Japan’s region.
Nevertheless, New Zealand had engaged extensively at diplomatic and operational levels to better understand the search and rescue activity undertaken following the ship’s sinking, the spokesperson said.
The ministry had provided “all consular assistance possible” to the families of the missing New Zealand crew members.
And Maritime New Zealand sought detailed information from the Japanese authorities and updated the families on a regular basis, with Japanese authorities supporting those efforts, the spokesperson said.
“Operational advice from Maritime New Zealand is that the Japan Coast Guard has undertaken a thorough, extensive and professional search operation by air and sea.”
In response to the Bellerby family’s concerns that others may not be helped if in trouble offshore, the ministry said it provided consular assistance to New Zealanders overseas through its network of overseas posts.
“New Zealand’s participation in the International Maritime Organisation and strong connections with foreign rescue coordination centres also supports New Zealand’s response to distress situations at sea.”