Fears of rise in Pacific ferry toll
WELLINGTON – Agence France-Presse
Rescuers searching for survivors from a sunken ferry in the remote Pacific said on Jan. 30 they were unsure how many people were aboard the missing vessel, amid reports it could be double the 50 previously estimated.
Kiribati President Taneti Maamau said up to 100 people may have been on the MV Butiraoi and called for a week of prayer for the missing, according to reports attributed to Radio Kiribati.
The ferry set off from Kiribati on Jan. 18 on a planned two-day voyage and officials raised the alarm last Friday after hearing nothing for more than a week. Seven survivors were found late Jan. 28 and rescuers are searching a swathe of ocean larger than Italy for any more.
The Rescue Coordination Centre NZ said it had not been able to confirm any numbers.
“The information we’ve had from survivors today, when they were in a state to be able to speak, was between 35 and 40, and we’ve had other people say 50,” a spokesman told AFP.
“We actually don’t know, we don’t have a list of names, without that we don’t know how many people were on board.”
Maamau also reportedly said the Butiraoi was unseaworthy and should never have set off.
The 17.5-meter wooden catamaran is believed to have run aground and undergone repairs to its propeller shaft before it left.
Aircraft from New Zealand, Australia and the United States are sweeping the search area looking for survivors.
Kiribati, a nation of 33 atolls and reefs with a total population of about 110,000, lies some 3,460 kilometers northeast of Fiji.