11 May 2011

Empty canoe off Kiribati belongs to missing group

9:38 pm on 11 May 2011

An empty canoe sighted off the coast of Kiribati has been confirmed as the vessel six young people missing since Friday were last seen in.

Two 19-year-old men and four girls aged eight to 14 set out on a three-metre canoe towing a smaller dingy on Friday to collect palm leaves for roofing.

Ross Henderson from New Zealand's Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre says the empty canoe was spotted about six nautical miles offshore a few days ago.

Mr Henderson says items found in the canoe have been confirmed as belonging to the group and the area has been extensively searched but there has been no sign of them.

The Rescue Co-ordination Centre says an Air Force Orion has searched 60,000 square kilometres of ocean since Sunday. The plane is returning to New Zealand on Wednesday night.

The United States Coastguard is expected to take over the search from Thursday, including making a Hercules available to Kiribati for the next four days.