Kiribati accused of ‘cover-up’ over ferry disaster

The Kiribati government faced criticism Friday for obstructing foreign journalists attempting to cover a major ferry disaster that has left the tiny Pacific nation in mourning.

More than 80 people, including 23 children, died when the ferry MV Butiraoi sank on January 18, the same day it set off from Nonouti island bound for the capital South Tarawa. The alarm was not raised until eight days later, with a subsequent search finding seven survivors in a dinghy and only scattered debris from the missing ferry.

Michael Morrah, a journalist with New Zealand’s Newshub, said he and a camera operator had their passports seized when they arrived in Kiribati this week to report on the disaster. He said immigration officials also visited their hotel and demanded they delete interviews with the ferry’s owner and a couple who survived the sinking.

“They said we were no longer allowed to report on the ferry sinking in Kiribati,” Morrah told Radio New Zealand. “The reason for this was because, in their words, the sinking was a very sensitive matter.” The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also reported this week that officials told its journalists they would not be welcome to travel to Kiribati and report on the tragedy.

 Published in Daily Times, February  10th 2018.