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The Royal New Zealand Air Force has deployed a P-3K2 Orion to join international search efforts for a missing ferry near Kiribati which is believed to have had over fifty people on board. 

The P-3K2 Orion, from No. 5 Squadron, departed RNAZAF Base Auckland early morning. The vessel is described as being a 17m wooden catamaran named Butiraoi and has been missing for almost a week after failing to arrive at its scheduled stop in Beito.

The vessel had earlier run aground at Nonouti Island, necessitating emergency repairs to its propeller shaft before it could depart on January 20th. The vessel was equipped with a high frequency radio, but no distress signals have been reported and it is not known how much fuel and water it was carrying.

Speaking on the deployment Air Component Commander Air Commodore Darryn Webb said that New Zealand was “always ready to play our part at home and in the region to help those in need.”

The deployment will be managed by the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand which is already contacting all of the islands along the route for sightings. The weather in that part of the Pacific is currently reported as being moderate with some swells.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force operates six P-3 Orion aircraft all of which have been extensively upgraded to the K2 level. The aircraft are deployed on a wide range of tasking including supporting counterpiracy and counternarcotic missions in the Indian Ocean, fisheries protection domestically and disaster zone assessments following the Christchurch earthquake.

It is expected that they will be replaced by the P-8A Poseidon in coming years. A Foreign Military Sale request was logged in April last year in the United States to begin the negotiations for what is estimated to be a US$1.46 billion contract.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force flew nearly 140 hours on 13 search and rescue missions in New Zealand and the Pacific in 2017. Earlier this week another Orion was deployed to look for three missing fishermen off Kiribati.

UPDATE: Subsequent to the initial submission of this article the RNZAF P-3K2 Orion aircraft located a dingy with 7 survivors (including one baby) on board and coordinated with a local fishing vessel for them to be rescued.

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