Search continues for Bougainville health minister, five others following boat disappearance off north-east PNG

An AMSA maritime surveillance aircraft (Photo: AMSA)

Papua New Guinea authorities have stated that efforts are ongoing to locate any trace of the six occupants of a small charter boat that disappeared in rough seas in the country’s north-east earlier this month.

The boat carrying Charry Napto, the newly appointed health minister of PNG’s Bougainville autonomous region, and six others including his wife and his son was sailing from Buka to Nissan Island when it encountered bad weather just 300 metres off the coast on July 17.

Local officials only learned about the incident two days later on July 19 after an individual who has been identified as a passenger on the same vessel managed to swim ashore.

The lone survivor, who was later brought to hospital, told investigators that the strong waves that the boat encountered caused panic among the passengers, prompting the minister’s wife and their son to jump into the sea.

The individual said the boat then suffered water ingress and eventually sank as its crew attempted to pull Mrs Napto and her son back on board.

The survivor further claimed that he and his six companions had all managed to don lifejackets but later became separated.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) was one of several agencies that have been requested to assist PNG authorities in the search and rescue effort.

An AMSA fixed-wing aircraft based in Cairns flew aerial surveillance patrols over the boat’s last reported position. However, no survivors were sighted during these flights.

A Bougainville official told reporters late last week that the government is considering the implementation of tighter restrictions on boat travel following announcements of imminent poor weather.

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