Seven found alive in dinghy from missing Kiribati ferry

Image: NZ Defence Force
Image: NZ Defence Force – Imagery taken from the NZ AirForce’s P-3K2 Orion as the fishing vessel picked up the seven survivors.

Seven ferry passengers, including an unconscious baby, have been rescued by a fishing boat after floating in the Pacific Ocean for days.

New Zealand Defence Force Air Commodore Darryn Webb said the five-metre dinghy was drifting more than 180 kilometres from the nearest major island when it was found on radar by a military P-3K2 Orion plane on Sunday, local time.

They were on an inter-island passenger ferry Butiraoi carrying 50 people that went missing in the waters off Kiribati between leaving Nonouti Island on January 18 for a two-day, 250-kilometre trip to Betio, the largest township of Kiribati’s capital city, South Tarawa.

The 17-metre wooden catamaran failed to arrive on January 20.

Air Commodore Webb said the Orion dropped supplies to the survivors, including food, water and a radio, as it waited for rescue.

He said the survivors had very little time to react when the ferry capsized and found themselves adrift without water or an engine. He said they did have a blanket or tarpaulin that they may have been able to use to get some relief from the sun.

A fishing boat had changed its course and picked up the survivors on Sunday afternoon.

Searchers planned to regroup and interview the survivors before deciding whether to continue the search for Butiraoi and its remaining passengers.

Kiribati, which is a nation of 33 atolls and reefs with a total population of about 110,000 people, is about 3,460 kilometres northeast of Fiji.

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