The search and rescue mission for passengers on board a Kiribati ferry now missing for 14 days has been called off
The search and rescue mission for passengers on board a Kiribati ferry now missing for 14 days has been called off.
Twenty two school children were among the 88 people on board the MV Butiraoi ferry, which left Nonouti Island on January 18, 2018 for a 250km trip to Kiribati’s capital city, South Tarawa, a journey that should have taken two days.
The boat failed to arrive on January 20 and was reported missing, with a rescue mission subsequently launched.
Kiribati’s patrol boat Te Anoai, along with five fishing vessels, continues to search the area where passengers or debris may be found, but the international-assisted search has ended.
Australia, New Zealand and the US had provided planes to join in the aerial search and located a lifeboat adrift in the central Pacific on January 28 with seven passengers aboard.
The wooden dinghy had no engine, water, food or radio, with one 14 year old girl among the seven survivors.
A medical team reached the survivors on January 30, who were then transferred to the Te Anoai and transported to Tarawa for treatment.
The missing ferry was carrying no emergency rescue equipment or locator beacon when it disappeared, and also had a recent history of mechanical problems.
Families awaiting news have strongly criticised the Kiribati government for its alleged disregard for marine safety, with Nonouti MP Ieremia Tabai calling the vessel “unseaworthy” and questioning why the government allowed it to sail.
Relatives have also condemned the fact it took six days for officials to ask for aerial assistance from Fiji and New Zealand, who have radar equipment and specialised marine rescue teams.
Nonouti council compiled a list of anyone with family on board the ferry by going door to door in the community and confirmed a total of 88 had boarded on January 18.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sent condolences to the people of Kiribati and offered their continued support and assistance to the government and relatives in the search and investigation.
Kiribati’s President Taneti Maamau said in a public address that a full investigation would take place and that he remained hopeful of finding other survivors.
Former President Anote Tong said that the apparent sinking was the biggest disaster Kiribati had seen in terms of numbers and victims involved.
He added that an investigation could lead to the disaster amounting to a criminal act if it was found to be caused by gross negligence, and that people were looking for someone to blame.
Read More: Rising ocean waters are threatening the survival of Kiribati, a tiny Commonwealth Pacific Island country, and throwing doubts on its future existence, a recent article in the Guardian reported