Pacific News Minute: Hope Fades for Survivors of Kiribati Ferry Sinking; More Than 80 People Missing

Feb 1, 2018

Nonouti Island, Kiribati
Credit ISS Expedition / Wikimedia Commons

The search continues in the waters of Kiribati, but two weeks after a ferry sank, hope is fading after what’s now feared to be the worst disaster in the country’s history. It’s thought that 88 people were aboard, including a crew of five. Seven survivors were rescued last weekend. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

We now know that the 56 foot catamaran Butiraoi sank shortly after departure from Nonouti Island, en route to the capital Tarawa – normally a two day journey.

We don’t know why the vessel was not reported missing until it was six days overdue. There are differing accounts as to whether the ferry had been certified as seaworthy. But even if it was, it had not been cleared to carry passengers. It was not equipped with an emergency radio beacon and carried one life raft and two dinghies.

Last weekend, a maritime patrol plane from New Zealand located a dinghy with seven people aboard…the survivors said they saw the other dinghy capsize after the ferry broke apart. Two aircraft from Australia and a Honolulu based U.S. Coast Guard C-130 are also participating in the search for the missing life raft. There is concern over how much food and water it may have carried.

Sir Ieremia Tabai, a former President of Kiribati who now represents Nonouti in Parliament, told RNZ Pacific that the community of 2,000 is overcome with grief and anger, with nearly everyone there knowing at least one among the missing. The passenger list includes 10 primary and 13 high school students, on their way back to Tarawa for the next term.  

The current President, Taneti Maamau said an investigation will be convened shortly, and called for unity as the search continues.