AIRCRAFT from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the US Coast Guard have joined efforts to find survivors from a ferry that sunk in Kiribati, which was reported to be carrying 50 passengers.
Rescue Coordination New Zealand (RCCNZ) and the NZ Air Force have also been assisting in the search, led by the Rescue Coordination Centre in Nadi, Fiji.
A dinghy carrying eight survivors of the sunken ferry was found yesterday after the vessel they were travelling on was reported overdue more than a week ago.
An NZ Air Force P3 Orion aeroplane which was searching for survivors located the dinghy – one of two on the ferry – and dropped off supplies including water and a radio. The survivors were picked up by a nearby fishing vessel, the FV Lomalo, yesterday.
One of the passengers rescued was reported to be a 14-year-old girl who was unconscious when the fishing vessel rendezvoused with the dinghy.
The P3 Orion has searched 385,000 square kilometres as of today (29 January). It will be joined by AMSA’s Challenger search and rescue jet aircraft later today, and the US Coast Guard’s C-130 Hercules is due to arrive tomorrow (30 January).
RCCNZ senior search and rescue officer Greg Johnston said RCCNZ is providing support and guidance to Fiji and Kiribati on where to search.
“The Kiribati search and rescue authorities have undertaken a massive effort in conjunction with Rescue Coordination Centre Nadi,” he said.
“We’re constantly updating our search planning as the area where the people could have drifted keeps increasing.”
Mr Johnston said the search area is in remote ocean 500 miles of west of Kiribati, which is a major factor in this operation. Weather conditions have been favourable in recent days.
“We have full confidence in the aircraft and the radar equipment they have on board,” he said.
“The searchers are guided by RCCNZ’s drift modelling that takes into account wind and currents and targets their efforts to find any survivors.
“We’re working together to assist Kiribati and Fiji as best we can. A huge ‘thank you’ to AMSA, US Coast Guard, our NZ Air Force colleagues and the crew of the FV Lomalo for helping out with this search – their support is hugely appreciated.”
The missing ferry – MV Butiraoi – is a 17.5m wooden catamaran. It was reported overdue on 26 January after departing Nonouiti for Betio, Tarawa on 18 January, with the 240km voyage expected to take two days.
RCCNZ Senior Search and Rescue Officer John Ashby said, “We understand the vessel underwent repairs to its propeller shaft just before it departed – this may have contributed to problems navigating the journey”.
Air Kiribati and local vessels have also been involved in the search, coordinated by the Fiji SAR authority.
A Kiribati marine patrol boat with medical personnel on board – arriving tomorrow (30 January) – will collect the seven survivors rescued from the dinghy.
The people on board the dinghy were three men – two aged in their 20s and one aged 34 – and four females – three in their 20s and one aged 14. They are understood to be in reasonable health.
Two commercial vessels from Kiribati are heading to the area to assist with the search.