The New Zealand Defence Force has joined the search for a 17m wooden catamaran with more than 50 people on board reported missing in the Pacific Ocean for almost a week.
CAPTION: An RNZAF Orion on the tarmac shortly before departing on a search mission off Kiribati this morning. NZDF photo.
Air Commodore Darryn Webb, New Zealand’s Air Component Commander, said a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion left Auckland at 6am this morning to help in the search following a request last night from the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand.
The catamaran, named Butiraoi, left Nonouti Island, an atoll about 250km south of Kiribati’s capital city, South Tarawa, on 18 January, bound for Betio, the largest township in the capital.
Local authorities said the vessel ran aground and underwent repairs to its propeller shaft before it left Nonouti Island.
A local search for the vessel began after it failed to arrive on 20 January as scheduled.
Air Commodore Webb said the New Zealand Orion was expected to arrive at the search area around midday today.
“We are always ready to play our part at home and in the region to help those in need,” Air Commodore Webb said.
The NZDF flew nearly 140 hours on 13 search and rescue missions in New Zealand and the Pacific in 2017.