Seven survivors from a ferry which disappeared more than a week ago have been found by search and rescue teams in the Pacific Ocean.
The boat was found drifting in the search area on Sunday morning, eight days after the MV Buitraoi ferry, carrying around 50 people, went missing off the coast of Kiribati.
But 43 people are feared dead with the ferry still missing and more than half of the search area already covered.
The MV Butiraoi went missing more than a week ago off the coast of Kiribati in the central Pacific
The crew from a New Zealand Air Force Orion plane located the boat two hours into the search on Sunday morning for the MV Butiraoi, a 17.5 metre wooden catamaran.
The New Zealand Defence Force confirmed the seven people found were on board the vessel after an air force plane spotted the small boat.
Efforts are now being coordinated with a fishing vessel 92km away to pick up the survivors.
The FV Lomalo is expected to rendezvous with the survivors on Sunday afternoon, Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the Air Component Commander for the NZDF said.
‘The Orion will continue to search the area, making every effort to locate any more survivors, while awaiting the rendezvous with the fishing vessel,’ Air Commodore Webb added.
The missing ferry, which had 50 passengers on board, was due to arrive in Betio, the country’s captial, on January 20 after departing Nonouiti Island.
“The group seem very relieved to have been found when the NZ Airforce Orion dropped supplies, including water and a radio, to them about 10am today,” said John Ashby, senior search and rescue officer of the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand.
Local authorities said the boat ran aground and underwent repairs to its propeller shaft before it left Nonouti Island.
It has a high frequency radio but it is not known whether it has enough fuel and emergency supplies on board.
The 240km inter-island voyage was due to take two days to complete.
Seven people are on board the small five metre boat and teams from the NZ Orion aircraft have dropped emergency aid including a radio into the water.
A spokesman from the New Zealand Defence Force said they could not confirm whether the people are from the missing ferry.
Crews have attempted to reach communication with the boat but say they have not been able to ascertain its origin.
Crews from the Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion drop emergency supplies to the survivors
Rescue efforts are being co-ordinated between New Zealand, Fiji and Kiribati authorities.
The ferry is described as having a dark blue hull and yellow cabin fixed on top.
The Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ) has so far scoured more than half of the possible search area – estimated to be the size of New Zealand.
Radio transmissions have been broadcast along the coastline and contact has been made with each island for sightings.
Search and rescue teams have been scouring an area the size of New Zealand in hunt for ferry
John Ashby, a senior search and rescue officer with the RCCNZ, said earlier: ‘We are doing everything we can to locate this ferry and its passengers.
‘We understand the vessel underwent repairs to its propeller shaft just before it departed. This may have contributed to problems navigating the journey.’
Kiribati is a collection of 33 islands with a population of 110,000 people, with the largest group located 1,500km north of Fiji.