6 Feb 2018

Reports turn back pleas ignored by Kiribati ferry captain

7:38 am on 6 February 2018

The captain of the Kiribati ferry that sank last month may have ignored pleas from passengers to turn back.

No caption

The NZ Defence Force found seven survivors from the ferry on this boat. Photo: supplied

The Butiraoi vanished after leaving Nonouti on 18 January, and seven survivors were found drifting in a dinghy a week later.

Those survivors arrived on the main island, Tarawa, at the weekend, where they were taken to hospital for physical and psychiatric care.

Radio Kiribati editor Rikimati Naare spoke to some of the survivors and said passengers told him they heard the ferry breaking up while Nonouti was still in sight and pleaded to return.

"Just before the boat broke up they heard a loud noise or crack and they tried to inform the captain to return to land. But they said that the captain just didn't want to hear them.

"Instead of going back to the island, he started to speed up the boat and that's when the third noise or crack happened and it just broke in half from the middle."

Some of the seven survivors shortly after being rescued.

Some of the seven survivors shortly after being rescued Photo: Facebook/ @RadioKiribati

The nearly 100 passengers tried to cram into one liferaft and two dinghies, but one of the dinghies capsized and the liferaft drifted elsewhere, Mr Naare said.

The passengers survived off a single bag of coconuts and when that ran out, they tried to desalinate sea water in a plastic container.

"They managed to get aboard one of the sacks of coconut. They managed to survive by eating the coconut and sharing the coconut juice, especially to the kids, with that one bag of coconut," he said.

"But then when they ran out of that bag of coconut they put the sea water into one of the containers and they tried to boil the sea water with the heat of the sun."

At least 80 other people were on the overloaded ferry, many of them children.

The wreckage is yet to be found and the missing passengers are all presumed drowned, Mr Naare said.

Kiribati school grieves loss of students

The Church of the Latter Day Saints has confirmed three of the missing ferry passengers attended the church-run Moroni High School in Tarawa.

Moroni High School, Tarawa, Kiribati

Moroni High School, Tarawa, Kiribati Photo: Supplied/ Moroni High School

A spokesman said the school was grieving the loss of one pupil and two graduate students.

The spokesman said the church and school were reaching out to families in their community offering support and assistance as they come to grips with the tragedy.

The school is likely to arrange a community gathering in the next few days to commemorate the loss of its students in the ferry disaster.

Video: The survivors from the Butiraoi disembark from RKS Te Anoai

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs