Search for more survivors from sunken ferry resumes in Pacific

The search for survivors from a ferry which sank with 50 people aboard in the remote Pacific resumed Monday, with rescuers saying they remained optimistic as they comb an area larger than Italy.

A New Zealand Air Force Orion plane located seven survivors drifting in a dinghy late Sunday after the sinking of the MV Butiraoi, which set off from the island nation of Kiribati on January 18.

NZDF Air Commodore Darryn Webb said a nearby fishing vessel had safely picked up the survivors and the focus had turned to finding more passengers from the stricken ferry.

“There’s a thought that there could be a liferaft with other survivors on it… we remain optimistic that we may find more survivors,” he told Radio New Zealand.

Webb said rescuers were searching a “huge” 315,000 square kilometre (122,000 sq mile) area.

He said the Orion’s crew were determining where to look by working on the assumption any liferaft would have been drifting for about a week.

“With those details it should allow the P-3 Orion to pinpoint with greater accuracy the next location to search,” he said.

The Butiraoi was last heard from on January 18 when it left Nonouti on a 250-kilometre (155-mile) trip to Betio, the largest township of Kiribati’s capital city, South Tarawa.

Local authorities said the 17.5-metre wooden catamaran ran aground and underwent repairs to its propeller shaft before it left Nonouti.

New Zealand sent a military aircraft to conduct sweeps of the area after being called in to help late Friday by Fiji authorities who are coordinating the search.

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