Kiribati Ferry Search Expands After 7 Are Found Alive

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Searchers examined an expanding zone of the Pacific Ocean around the islands of Kiribati on Monday in hopes of finding more survivors of a ferry sinking after rescuers found seven passengers alive on an aluminum dinghy following more than a week at sea.

The 56-foot wooden catamaran that vanished on Jan. 18 was believed to have been carrying at least 50 other passengers. On Friday, the New Zealand authorities were first alerted by the government of Kiribati — which is about halfway between Hawaii and Australia — that the vessel had vanished after leaving for what was supposed to be a two-day, 150-mile voyage.

New Zealand’s military joined the search the next day, and rescued seven people, including a 14-year-old girl, on the small dinghy. A spokesman for the operation said the group had survived “in the baking sun” for more than a week without supplies, shade or a motor for the dinghy.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb said Monday that the seven survivors were still on the fishing boat that had rescued them, because New Zealand’s military needed it to stay in the area in case more survivors were spotted during an air search.

An image from a military video showed survivors aboard the dinghy that was found Saturday adrift at sea.Credit…New Zealand Defense Force, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He said the survivors had told rescuers that the ferry split in two and sank, and that they were able to use the dinghy because it detached from the larger vessel. Earlier in the trip, the ferry, the MV Butiraoi, had hit an atoll, forcing it to undergo repairs to its propeller shaft.

Despite information from the survivors about where the ferry sank, Commodore Webb said that a week of ocean currents and wind meant searchers were covering an “exponentially larger” area of ocean every day. The search zone now covered 200,000 square miles.

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