2 Oct 2019

Kiribati ferry disaster report finally released by Govt

6:42 pm on 2 October 2019

A report compiled by a Commission of Inquiry investigating a ferry disaster in Kiribati last year, which killed as many as 81 people, has been released by the government after months of public pressure.

But it has only been released in a hard copy for viewing at the president's office or the national library in the capital, Tarawa.

Some of the seven survivors shortly after being rescued.

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

MV Butiraoi left the island of Nonouti for Tarawa on 18 January 2018, carrying 88 people - many of them school children heading to the capital for the school term - a journey that should have taken two days. It was six days before the ship was reported missing.

More than a week after it left Nonouti, seven survivors were spotted by a New Zealand Air Force Orion plane drifting in the searing sun of the central Pacific. They had survived with no food or water. No other survivors were found after an exhaustive search.

The 17-metre wooden catamaran was meant to carry only 69 people and is understood to have been overloaded with cargo as well. Days before it left Nonouti, it had undergone repairs for a damaged propeller after it had become wedged on a reef.

It had no form of emergency beacon when it broke apart not far from Nonouti, as well as limited safety gear, only one life raft and two dinghies, and was criticised by people from the island as unseaworthy.

President Taneti Maamau at the time described the sinking as a national tragedy, and several inquiries were launched into the disaster, including by the Kiribati maritime authorities, who were helped by New Zealand investigators, and police. Mr Maamau launched a national Commission of Inquiry.

But families of the victims have been severely critical of the government response, with some contemplating a lawsuit against the government.

In November, the government said the report would not be made public because of the police inquiry, which enraged both family representatives and opposition MPs.

But in a three-line statement on Wednesday, the government said the report has now been made public, labelling it a step forward in transparency.

"This is a new milestone and a step forward undertaken by this government to promote transparency and to respond to the need of the people who have requested to see the report," it said.

However, the government statement went into no detail about what the report said or its conclusions on how to avoid such a disaster happening again in a vast country heavily reliant on sea transport. It also gave no detail about where the police inquiry is at, and whether charges are likely.

The report and its conclusions have only been released in a hard copy for viewing at the president's office or the national library, and RNZ Pacific has been told people are being prevented from copying any part of it there.

RNZ Pacific has asked for copies of the report, and is still waiting for a response.

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