Report into sunk Kiribati ferry finds captain did nothing to help 'screaming' passengers

A report into the sinking of a ferry in Kiribati, which left 95 people dead, says the ship's captain did nothing as passengers fell into the water screaming for help. 

A report by the Commission of Inquiry details a litany of serious failings, including the Government's oversight of the vessel.

Now, there are calls for the families of those who lost loved ones to be compensated. 

The doomed MV Butiraoi, a 17-metre wooden catamaran, sank on a trip from the island of Nonouti last year to the mainland. Only seven of the 102 on-board survived. 

Now, the report has found the vessel was unseaworthy and overloaded. 

"I blame the Government for what happened. And I told them we are going to push an account for compensation," said Nonouti MP and former Kiribati President, Ieremia Tabai. 

It was the Government's Marine Division which allowed the vessel to leave port, despite it having an expired radio licence.

The events that followed were tragic: 

  • The vessel was forbidden from carrying passengers but did so anyway
  • It didn't have enough life jackets
  • As it sailed into poor weather, the master refused to turn back
  • As is sank, the master sat on the upturned hull "obviously dazed, regretful and sorry". 
  • He did nothing "as passengers were screaming out for help"

The report found that one of the survivors, Temake Ioane, was instrumental in helping save lives. 

Newshub spoke to him last year. 

"I asked the captain to go turn to the island of Nonouti... or to let people get off... but he didn't go back, he just sped up," Ioane told Newshub in February 2018.

Ioane and his wife's two children, along with many others, died of dehydration.

The Commission's report also noted the vessel grounded multiple times before the tragedy, as well as its crew often being drunk while working - giving them a "feeling of power and grandeur to make decisions alone". 

Executive director of watchdog group Kiribati Citizens Against Corruption, Ngatau Neneia, told Newshub the Kiribati government failed to act swiftly enough to implement stricter maritime laws following another ferry sinking in 2009, when the Uean Te Raoi II went down leaving 33 people dead. 

"Had the government been more proactive, the Butiraoi accident would not have ever happened", Neneia said. 

Kiribati authorities had assistance from the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission in the aftermath of both ferry disasters. 

The Kiribati government has been approached for comment.


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