18 Jul 2009

RNZAF ends search for Kiribati ferry survivors

7:03 pm on 18 July 2009

The New Zealand Airforce has ended its search for survivors of a capsized ferry in Kiribati because of a lack of fuel.

The airforce had sent a C-130 Hercules to join the operation, which is being run by Fiji authorities.

Twenty people have been found alive and seven bodies recovered, leaving 18 people unaccounted for after the double-hulled 17m canoe capsized on Monday.

Neville Blakemore from New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre says the search for more survivors has been scaled back.

He says local fishing boats will continue the search and the airforce plane has returned to Whenuapai Air Base.

Mr Blakemore says the canoe capsized when its captain tried to rescue a crew member who fell from the mast into the ocean.

The double hulled canoe was carrying 40 passengers from the capital, Tarawa, to the outer island of Maiana.

Radio Kiribati reports the group was heading to Maiana to celebrate Independence Day when it capsized in rough weather.