Australian and US aircraft join search for Kiribati ferry

29 January 2018

Aircraft from Australia and the US Coast Guard will join the search for the missing Kiribati ferry MV Butiraoi that had an estimated 50 people on-board.

Auckland Harbourmaster
Maritime New Zealand ©2018

Rescue Coordination Centre NZ and the Royal New Zealand Air Force continue to assist the Rescue Coordination Centre in Nadi, Fiji and Kiribati search and rescue authorities to find survivors. RCCNZ passed on the requests for further air assistance to the Australian and the USA search organisations.

The AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) Challenger search and rescue jet aircraft will start searching later today and the US Coast Guard’s C-130 Hercules is due to arrive tomorrow (Tuesday).

The NZ Air Force P3 Orion has continued the search and - as of today - has searched 385,000 square kilometres - an area larger than the size of New Zealand.

RCCNZ is providing support and guidance to Fiji and Kiribati on where to search, says Senior Search and Rescue Officer Greg Johnston.

“The Kiribati search and rescue authorities have undertaken a massive effort in conjunction with Rescue Coordination Centre Nadi. We’re constantly updating our search planning as the area where the people could have drifted keeps increasing.”

Johnston says the search area is in remote ocean 500 miles of west of Kiribati, which is a major factor in this operation. Weather conditions have been favourable in recent days.

“We have full confidence in the aircraft and the radar equipment they have onboard. The searchers are guided by RCCNZ’s drift modelling that takes into account wind and currents and targets their efforts to find any survivors,” Johnston says.

“We’re working together to assist Kiribati and Fiji as best we can. A huge ‘thank you’ to AMSA, US Coast Guard, our NZ Air Force colleagues and the crew of the FV Lomalo for helping out with this search - their support is hugely appreciated.”

A Kiribati marine patrol boat with medical personnel onboard - arriving tomorrow - will collect the seven survivors rescued from a dinghy on Sunday afternoon by fishing vessel FV Lomalo.

The people on board the dinghy were three men - two aged in their 20s and one aged 34 - and four females - three in their 20s and one aged 14. They are understood to be in reasonable health.

Two commercial vessels from Kiribati are heading to the area to assist with the search. Further updates will be released when they are available.

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