Gulf Livestock 1: Pope Francis promises financial aid and 'small personal gift' for families of missing crew members

Pope Francis has promised to give financial aid to the families of the missing crew members of Gulf Livestock 1 along with a small personal gift "to express his closeness and solidarity".

The livestock carrier sank in a typhoon in the East China Sea on September 2 after leaving Napier bound for China in August.

The ship had 43 crew onboard, including two New Zealanders, and almost 6000 cattle.

Three Filipino crew members were pulled from the sea before the official search efforts were called off, though one of those men later died.

Families of the crew still missing have begged authorities to continue searching.

"We are quite hopeful that they are floating around somewhere in a liferaft or been washed up on an island and so it is quite probable and we are hoping that they are still out there," Guy Bellerby, father of missing New Zealand crew member Lochie Bellerby told Newshub in the days following the ship's sinking.

Kiwi father-of-two Scott Harris was also onboard. His mother Karen Adrian said it was his maiden voyage and she just wanted him found and brought home.

Hope some crew had survived was reignited earlier this month after a private search team - funded by donations - found parts of a life raft and life jackets on islands off the coast of Japan.

In a statement this week, the Vatican said economic aid would "be given personally to the families of the missing persons and the two survivors, along with a small personal gift from Pope Francis, to express his closeness and solidarity".

The gift would be delivered in "collaboration with the Apostolic Nunciatures and the seafarers' Stella Maris centres in the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand," according to the Vatican News.

"This contribution is accompanied, from the very first days of the disaster, by spiritual, psychological and personalised support, offered to the Philippine families, by a team of professionals, chaplains and nuns of the Stella Maris Centres of the nation," the Vatican said.

"The support, which in view of the COVID-19 restrictions has so far been implemented through the use of social media and a digital platform, will continue for several months. This work is entrusted to Mary, Star of the Sea, the protectress of seafarers, so that she will give courage and strength to all family members to face the future not with uncertainties but with confidence and serenity."

It is not clear how much financial support will be given.

Following the discovery of debris earlier this month, a spokesperson for the family of Lochie Bellerby said they remained "hopeful of there being signs of life" and called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade "for official diplomatic support with the Japanese Coast Guard while the window of survivability remains possible". 

The livestock carrier's sinking led to renewed calls for a ban on live cattle exports and led to the Government placing a temporary ban on the practice.