3 Jan 2011

20 people safe after supply ship sinks off Marshall Islands

11:52 am on 3 January 2011

All 20 people on board a supply ship that sank off the Marshall Islands on Saturday have been rescued after spending more than 12 hours drifting in heavy seas.

The 28-metre Jeljelet Ae was about 130 kilometres from Majuro when it went down.

The crew and passengers were found in a life raft in the late afternoon as light was fading.

An emergency locator beacon directed Marshall Islands and US Coast Guard search and rescue teams to the area.

The vessel, laden with heavy equipment and construction materials for a school being built on Likiep Atoll, went down quickly after the crew sent a radio message that they were in trouble about eight hours into the 173-nautical-mile, open-ocean journey.

The cause of the sinking was not immediately known, but Marshall Islands Shipping Corporation officials have warned the four vessels were overdue for maintenance.

However, attempts made in the past two years for the government to allocate funds for the vessels to be overhauled have been unsuccessful.