Aaron Hopa, one of two divers who died under mysterious circumstances while working on a Dubai-based survey ship, was murdered, an inquest has ruled.
Hopa, son of a senior New Zealand policeman, died as a result of "an unlawful act by a person or persons unknown," coroner Edgar Bradley said.
The verdict comes 20 months after Jim Hopa launched his own investigation into the circumstances surrounding his son's death.
After the hearing in the Hopas' home town of Timaru, Jim Hopa vowed not to rest until the truth about the death of his son came out.
"Someone knows what went down, who killed the boys and for what reason," he told The New Zealand Herald newspaper.
Aaron Hopa and British diver Robert Glazzard were working on the MV Seabulk Hercules when they died. Inititally it was thought that they had drowned. Dubai police said they had fallen overboard while the ship was returning to Dubai.
Forensic tests carried out in New Zealand and Great Britain, however, showed that both men were killed before their bodies were dumped in the Gulf.
According to Christchurch forensic pathologist Dr Martin Sage, Aaron Hopa's throat injuries were of life-threatening severity, similar to those made by a karate-chop or a blow with an object.
Sage's conclusion was similar to that of a British pathologist who found that Glazzard had injuries consistent with strangulation.
Bradley said claims made earlier that Glazzard had been involved in heroin smuggling were unsubstantiated and not linked to Aaron Hopa.
At the New Zealand hearing, former Detective Inspector Dave Haslett, who travelled to Dubai to investigate Aaron Hopa's death in April 1999, said that one or more of the 28 crew knew what had happened to the divers.
"There is a distinct possibility the men were killed in their cabins during a drink-induced sleep and dumped overboard."
Dubai police have reopened their investigation, but their inquiries were hampered by the fact that the Seabulk Hercules' crew has dispersed worldwide.
Haslett's replacement, Detective Inspector Rob Pope, said it was unlikely an officer from New Zealand would return to Dubai.
The two divers had been hired by Texas-based Oceaneering International on instructions from a British company, BMT Edon Liddiard Vince.
Their job was to survey the wreck of the Kapitan Sakharov, a Russian ship which sank 80 kilometres off Dubai in 1983, following a fire or explosion. The ship's cargo was unknown but it is claimed there was something on board which was strong enough to kill fish in the area.
Logbooks say that around midnight on January 7, 1999, the two men along with 28 other crew members left Jebel Ali on board the Seabulk Hercules. They were the only industrial divers on board.
At 9am on January 10 the Seabulk Hercules returned to port. Aaron Hopa and Robert Glazzard were not declared missing until 2pm that day. At 5pm the crew was mustered. Dubai police arrived at 9pm, the ship's log shows.
According to police statements a cook and a surveyor were the last to see the divers alive. They were part of a social gathering on deck, listening to music and drinking rum.
Ten days later Glazzard's body was found floating in the West Fatah Field wearing only a pair of blue uunderpants and a watch. Six days after that Aaron Hopa's body, naked except for a bone carving round his neck, was found in the same area of the Gulf.
In statements to police, crewmen claimed that the two had fallen overboard. Non-invasive autopsies carried out locally found no evidence of foul play so the Dubai police concluded the two were victims of accidental drowning.
Jim Hopa has never accepted this explanation. During a visit to Dubai he toured the Seabulk Hercules and said the chest-high protective railings made it impossible for anyone to fall overboard in relatively calm seas.
"If you think I am going to roll over and accept that my son's death was accidental, you don't know me," Jim Hopa told Dubai police.