Aerial search for Kiribati ferry survivors in the Pacific Ocean called off | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 02.02.2018
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Aerial search for Kiribati ferry survivors in the Pacific Ocean called off

The ferry carrying 88 passengers went missing after leaving the Pacific port on January 18. The Kiribati government says it will continue a maritime search of its vast territory.

Kiribati called of an international air search on Friday for survivors of the 17-meter-long (56-foot) catamaran that went missing in the Pacific Ocean with more than 88 people on board.

"The Kiribati government has suspended aerial searches for survivors of the ferry MV Butiraoi," rescue organization Maritime New Zealand said Friday.

The Butiraoi went missing after setting off from Kiribati's Nonouti Island for the capital of Tarawa on January 18. Eighty-eight people including 23 children and teenagers were on the vessel.

Four Kiribati ships would continue to search the area, said Kevin Banaghan, an official with Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand.

Read more: Patrol plane sights Kiribati ferry survivors

Few survivors found

Aircraft from New Zealand's air force found seven survivors on Sunday including a 14-year-old girl floating in a wooden dinghy without water or food.

The group said other passengers aboard the Butiraoi had escaped after the ferry split in half.

But rescue aircraft, which also included planes from the Australian and US air force, have only found small amounts of debris in a search area more than 350,000 square kilometers (135,000 square miles).

An aerial search had been considered more effective in finding survivors than ships due to the immense size of the search area.

National tragedy

Former Kiribati President Anote Tong said Nonouti had lost its "youngest and brightest" in the sinking.

Officials said 22 of the children onboard were on their way to start a new school term in Tarawa.

Former Prime Minister Ieremia Tabai has called for an independent investigation into why authorities began searching for the missing ship on January 26, eight days after they said it had sunk, and why it set off without basic safety equipment.

Many of Kiribati's 110,000 residents regularly travel between the country's 33 atolls and reefs by boat, where trips can take days in an area around the size of the continental United States.

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