Residents in the small East Coast community of Waihau Bay want to bring the saga of the boat Betty Gee to a happy end.

The saga began after fisherman Will Fransen endured a gruelling 24 hours at sea after being yanked off the boat while attempting to reel in a marlin off Whangamatā on January 2.

As Fransen struggled in the water without a life jacket or Personal Locator Beacon, the 40-foot Betty Gee continued to idle and he was unable to reach it as it moved away.

He was rescued the following day by a passing boat who had spotted flashes of sunlight, intentionally reflected from his watch.

Fransen’s boat was found — ransacked — last Monday at the mouth of the Raukokore River, south of Waihau Bay on East Cape.

Several people spoken to by 1News say they believe they know the identity of people who took items from the launch after it ran aground near their settlement.

Some took photos of the incident and have passed them on to police. Police confirmed to 1News that the photos are now part of its investigation.

Fransen said several items were taken before he arrived at the scene with other locals last week to refloat the vessel.

He said a dinghy, an outboard motor, fishing gear, solar panels and cameras among other items were missing. He estimated their worth at $20,000.

Waihau Bay resident Dane Tamepo said those who took the items did not reflect the community.

“I would ask them to consider returning these items so that this gentleman can start the rest of his life with his boat intact and with all the gear,” he said.

Professor Paul Myburgh of AUT’s Law School told 1News that taking items from a vessel like the Betty Gee was not covered by salvage rights.

“The ideas of ‘finders keepers’ has never, ever been part of our legal system. It has always been illegal to steal property from a wreck,” he said.

And he said under the Maritime Transport Act, someone finding a wrecked vessel had an obligation to act.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s washed up on private property or on a public beach, you are required to advise the police as soon as possible, and hand over the wreck to the police as soon as possible.”

A group of people who allegedly took items from the launch after it ran aground near their settlement.

Myburgh added that keeping items from a wreck is punishable under maritime law by a fine of up to $5000, which can be increased.

“Every day that you hold on to stuff from the vessel, a further fine of $250 per day can be levied upon you. So it really makes sense legally, as well as morally, for that property to be returned.”