A ferry carrying an estimated 50 people is missing in Kiribati, prompting an international search involving New Zealand and Fiji authorities.
The MV Butiraoi, an inter-island passenger ferry, was making a two-day, 240km trip from the island of Nonouti, north to Betio Terawa, the largest township of Kiribati’s capital city.
The ferry left on 18 January and was expected to arrive two days later.
The boat failed to arrive and is still missing seven days later. The vessel was only recently reported overdue, according to New Zealand authorities.
The Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ) announced it had joined the search for the boat on Saturday morning local time, supporting the efforts of Fijian authorities.
New Zealand’s air force has deployed a P3 Orion aerial surveillance aircraft, and the coordination centre is attempting to narrow down the search area.
A local vessel will also begin checking the route between the two islands. Other islands along the ferry’s path have been contacted and local radio is broadcasting to check for sightings.
The ferry, described as a 17.5m wooden catamaran, had problems with its propeller shaft before departing.
RCCNZ senior search and rescue officer, John Ashby, said New Zealand was “doing everything we can to locate this ferry and its passengers”.
“We understand the vessel underwent repairs to its propeller shaft just before it departed,” Ashby said.
“This may have contributed to problems navigating the journey.”
He said the weather was moderate with some swells.
In October, after rescuing a group of three fishermen in Kiribati, Commodore Darryn Webb of the New Zealand air force urged that boats be fitted with proper communications and emergency equipment.
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