In a joint operation by authorities from Solomon Islands and Australia, ten young Solomon Islanders have been rescued after nearly four days at sea.
The group, aged between 11 and 35, had been travelling on Tuesday between the islands of Ulawa and San Cristobal, in Solomon Islands’ Makira Province, when their vessel ran out of fuel just a few kilometers from their destination.
The group was reported missing on Wednesday, with a search commencing shortly afterwards by members of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) and RAMSI. Amidst bad weather and extremely poor sea conditions, the search, covering an area of approximately 2700-square nautical miles, was undertaken with the assistance of the Solomon Islands Marine Rescue Coordination Centre and Australian Search and Rescue, who dispatched a P-3 Orion aircraft direct from Adelaide, Australia.
After significant analysis of tidal and weather patterns, the missing vessel, with all 10 passengers safely on board, was located shortly after 1:30pm on Friday, approximately eight nautical miles south-west of AvuAvu, on the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal. All 10 passengers were subsequently winched to safety by helicopter and underwent health assessments in nearby Marau, before being taken by aircraft to Honiara’s National Referral Hospital for further observation.
Representative of the family of the 10 missing passengers, Mr Dennis Marita of Madjoa village, Ulawa Island, said upon receiving the news that the boat had been located with all 10 passengers safely rescued, he was overcome with emotion.
“After four days, we had begun to lose hope; we were not sure whether anyone would be alive, especially for the young children without water or food,” Mr Marita said. “For us all, the idea that we could lose 10 people from our family was too much.”
“It was beyond disbelief for us to hear that they were all safe. It is a huge relief, for all our wantoks and our family,” he said. “We cried a lot because we are so happy. We are so thankful to everyone who was involved in the rescue.”
Commander of RAMSI’s Participating Police Force, Paul Osborne, said the rescue operation represented three days of tireless work by many people in both Solomon Islands and Australia.
“Obviously we are all very happy that an event that had the potential to be a terrible tragedy ended with all 10 people rescued, safe and well,” Mr Osborne said.
“I wish to congratulate all those involved in this major operation, particularly the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and RAMSI Maritime Units, and the hard-working crews of PDL Toll, Solomon Airlines and Australian Search and Rescue, who all contributed to the rescue of these young Solomon Islanders.”
The rescue was one of a number of ocean rescues undertaken in Solomon Islands during the past week. A boat travelling with a group of young girl guides was rescued near Gizo in Solomon Islands Western Province on Tuesday, and a number of other rescues have been undertaken, amidst bad weather across the country.
Acting Commissioner of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, Walter Kola, said while these and other incidents had ended positively, the risks involved in travelling in poor conditions and without ample preparation were enormous. He urged both passengers and boat operators to take greater care, or risk their lives and the lives of others.
“I appeal to all passengers and boat operators to carefully consider their needs before undertaking any travel in bad conditions,” Mr Kola said. “For those that are travelling – regardless of the conditions – I urge you to take necessary precautions, such as extra fuel, life jackets and provisions, with you as part of every journey.”