January 28, 2018 / 10:43 AM / 22 days ago

Search resumes after seven survivors of Kiribati ferry rescued

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand military planes on Monday were scouring a section of the Pacific Ocean for more survivors from a missing ferry after seven people were rescued from a dingy that was adrift for days.

The seven survivors, including an unconscious teenage girl, were safely transferred to a nearby fishing vessel late on Sunday, Defence Force Air Commodore Darryn Webb told Radio New Zealand.

The air search resumed at first light on Monday, he said.

The 17-metre (56-foot) ferry with 50 people on board was reported missing on Jan. 20, two days after it departed Nonouti Island on a 250-km (155-mile) trip to Betio in Kiribati.

A handout photo supplied by the New Zealand Defence Force shows aid supplies being dropped to survivors from a ferry that sunk in the sea near the South Pacific nation of Kiribati, January 27, 2018. Picture taken January 27, 2018. New Zealand Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS

“They (the search crew) will be feeling mixed emotions now that they’ve discovered a dinghy with some survivors but not everyone on board,” Webb said.

The Defence Force believed there could be a life raft with more surviving passengers, he added.

“We remain optimistic that we may find some more survivors,” he said.

New Zealand has been coordinating the search since Saturday and a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft spotted the dinghy within two hours of reaching the search area on Sunday morning, the NZDF said in a statement.

Before it left Nonouti Island, the missing ferry, a wooden catamaran, underwent repairs to its propeller shaft after running aground.

Reporting by Stephen Coates and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Keith Weir and Cynthia Osterman

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