The MV Butiraoi, a 55-foot wooden catamaran ferry, left Nonouti Island in the Gilbert Islands (see video below) for South Tarawa, Kiribati on Thursday, January 18, 2018 for a two day trip, with sea conditions “moderate to rough” at the time.
The ferry began the nearly 150-mile journey to Betio on Tarawa with a reported 50 passengers aboard. There are more than 40 passengers now considered missing.
New Zealand rescuers were not told the ferry was missing until late on Friday January 26, eight days after its departure. On January 27, New Zealand Defence Force announced it had located a small dinghy while searching the area from the air. Inside the dinghy were 8 passengers, 7 adults and a baby who was unconscious; the survivors had been adrift at sea for days.
Search and rescue aircraft have located a debris field. It is not clear at this time, what may caused MV Butiraoi to capsize. It was possible recent repairs to its propeller shaft may have contributed to navigation problems.
There have been no pirate attacks in the region during 2018. The nearest reported attempted pirate attack on a vessel was at Port Dickson, Malaysia on January 3.
Republic of Kiribati in the Gilbert Islands is located in the central Pacific Ocean. The permanent population is just over 110,000 (2015), more than half of whom live on Tarawa Atoll. The nation comprises 33 atolls and reef islands and one raised coral island, Banaba. The islands have a total land area of of 310 sq miles is dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometres. It is also one of the nations most at risk from rising sea levels.
The natives of the Gilbert Islands are Micronesian, similar in many respects to the natives of the Marshall Islands, the Caroline Islands and the Mariana Islands. At the outbreak of World War II, about 78% of the native population were said to be Christians. This group was divided mainly into two denomination which included Congregationalists (43%) and Roman Catholics (35%). The rest of the population were largely semi-pagan agnostics; they did not adhere to the Christian faith, nor did they retain much of their beliefs in their own ancient gods.
Native diet consists mainly of fish, coconuts, pandanus fruit, babai (swamp taro), chicken, and some pork. Housing is generally of the bungalow hut type.
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