Eighteen people who were lost overboard when a canoe capsized in the Pacific nation of Kiribati are unlikely to be found alive, a rescuer said on Monday.
The double-hulled canoe was carrying 45 passengers from the capital Tarawa to the outlying atoll of Maiana for Independence Day celebrations when it capsized on July 13.
“We don’t expect any survivors at the moment.... We expect only to collect the bodies of the dead,” Tatai Tata, captain of a boat searching for the missing, told Radio New Zealand International.
The 17-metre (56-foot) canoe capsized during the attempted rescue of a crew member who fell into the water in rough conditions, officials said.
Five people were able to swim ashore to raise the alarm.
Kiribati groups 33 coral atolls straddling the equator and spread over an ocean area equal in size to the continental United States.
Earlier a New Zealand Air Force spokesman said 20 people had survived the capsize, seven were confirmed dead and 18 were missing.
New Zealand’s air force helped in the search last week but withdrew at the weekend, the spokesman said.
On Friday the air force plane conducted a six-hour search of the area but found only debris floating in the water.