By ELIZABETH VUVU
A SEARCH is underway in waters off New Britain for a missing boat carrying 15 adults heading for East New Britain last Monday, The National reports.
East New Britain disaster officer Elias Babate said the 60hp 23-footer dinghy and a 40hp dinghy were both travelling to Rabaul from West New Britain.
They are both owned by the Solwara Meri group of boats in Namatanai, New Ireland, and were headed for Lungalunga on the north coast of East New Britain.
The two boats were hired by a church group in the Wide Bay area to transport them from Lavo in Bialla to Kokopo to make a connection to Namatanai for a church gathering.
Babate said the two boats left together but, because the 60hp dinghy was faster, it left the 40hp dinghy at Lolobau Island and Point Takis in the Wide Bay area at around 1.30pm.
The 40hp dinghy reportedly ran out of fuel and sought help from a fishing vessel nearby.
They stayed with the fishing boat overnight. It was assumed that the 60hp dinghy had reached its destination the same day.
Babate said the 40hp boat was rescued last Tuesday morning by the organiser of the church group that hired the two boats.
He said on arriving at Lungalunga, they realised that the 60hp dinghy had not reached its destination and raised the alarm.
An urgent message had been dispatched to the National Maritime Safety Authority and National Disaster Centre to alert international aircraft and coastal ships to look out for the dinghy.
He said the people of West New Britain, Watom Island, Djaul and New Hanover, in New Ireland, and Manus were alerted to look out for the dinghy as the south-easterly winds were becoming stronger.
Babate said as of last Friday, they had not received any reports of sightings but were still talking to all concerned stakeholders.
He said Solwara Meri had engaged three of its boats for the search last Tuesday.
"We are keeping our fingers crossed that they are alive and must have gone into international waters by now and, hopefully, fishing boats or aircraft may locate them."