Body found in search for missing 14 in Solomons

Police and maritime officials in the Solomon Islands have found the body of a woman they believe is one of 14 people missing at sea since New Year's Day.

Two boat loads of people left Gizo for the Shortland Islands on 1 January, with one vessel drifting near Moli where it was found on 2 January. The other, carrying 14 people, failed to reach its destination.

The woman was found on Tuesday night near Zinoa Island, Vouza in Choiseul Province, and northwest of the Solomons capital Honiara, the head of maritime Thierry Nervale told RNZ Pacific.

This is more than 100 kilometres from the Shortland Islands.

Nervale said her body has been transported to Taro Island by the police and medical team.

Assistant Police Commissioner National Operations Evelyn Thugea said a family member of the woman had identified the body.

Thugea said the relative had also confirmed the woman was among passengers missing at sea after a boat they were travelling in failed to reach its destination on 1 January.

"The dead body started to decompose but a tattoo written at the back and the upper left arm was still visible to identify the body," Thugea said.

Nervale said two boatloads of people had left Gizo for Harapa in the Shortland Islands to attend a funeral.

One boat had drifted and reached Moli Island, Nervale said.

Among the 14 missing were children including a nine-year-old and a four-year-old.

"On their way, almost reaching the Shortland Islands they met very strong winds, the two boats then somehow separated but only one of the boats managed to navigate and arrive safely in Taro, on January 2," he said.

Taro Police said a mobile phone belonging to one of the passengers in the missing boat was called, and it rang but no one answered it.

On attempts to track the whereabouts of the phone, they alerted telecommunications provider, Our Telekom, and were informed that the phone was detected within the Sasamunga or within south Choiseul range of Telekom's mobile network.

"Villages along Sasamunga and south Choiseul were notified of any sightings of the boat or floating objects since police received the report of it missing, but there is still no sighting of anything," said Sibere Tauroa of Taro Police.

Bad weather hampers search

Meanwhile, Nervale said bad weather conditions had delayed the search and rescue efforts on Thursday.

But he said the rescue teams would head out once the rains eased.

Nervale said they have had to call off the search last weekend due to poor visibility brought about by the heavy rain and cloudy conditions.

"So we still have the Shortland operation ongoing until today. But the weather is not really good in the area at the moment.

"As soon as the weather clears in the area we will again do some search more towards the Shortlands, north Choiseul and Shortland Islands."

Nervale said villagers living along the northwest coast of the Solomon Islands had been urged to keep a lookout for the missing 13 people.

In August 2020, six people reported missing at sea for three weeks were found alive. The three men and three women went missing in an outboard motor canoe on the 11 July in Temotu Province's Reef Islands.

The group were found in Makira Ulawa Province, hundreds of kilometres away.


Photo: Supplied RNZ Pacific Caption: One of the boats that left Gizo for the Shortland Islands on New Year's Day