The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has found seven survivors from a ferry with 50 people on board that was reported missing in Kiribati a week ago.
Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the Air Component Commander, said a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft deployed to help a multinational search for the missing interisland ferry MV Butiraoi has found a five-metre dinghy adrift in the Pacific Ocean with seven people on board within two hours of reaching the search area this morning.
“The crew has dropped them aid supplies containing water, food and a radio and are currently trying to establish communication with them,” Air Commodore Webb said.
He said a fishing vessel contacted by the Orion to support the rescue effort was about 92 kilometres northeast of the dinghy’s location and was expected to reach the survivors around mid-afternoon.
“The Orion will continue to search the area, making every effort to locate any more survivors, while awaiting the rendezvous with the fishing vessel,” Air Commodore Webb said.
The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand has been coordinating the search since Saturday.
Butiraoi, an inter-island passenger ferry, left Nonouti Island on 18 January for a two-day, 250-kilometre trip to Betio, the largest township of Kiribati’s capital city, South Tarawa. The 17-metre wooden catamaran failed to arrive on 20 January, sparking the search.
Local authorities said the boat ran aground and underwent repairs to its propeller shaft before it left Nonouti Island. It has a high frequency radio but it is not known whether it has enough fuel and emergency supplies on board.