28 feared dead after Solomon's ferry ignores storm warning

HONIARA: At least 28 ferries were swept overboard in a powerful storm near the Solomon Islands reports said Saturday, with the captain unaware that he had lost someone until the ship docked.

Passengers were heading from the capital Honiara to West Are'are, more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) away, under a government program to evacuate people to their home villages during the global epidemic.

MV Taimareho set sail Thursday night as tropical Harold pounced on the Solomons , and with meteorologists who warn against unnecessary travel.

But the captain ignored the advice not to sail, the nation's leader said, as survivors reported that dozens of people were swept overboard by huge waves and strong winds. Local media estimates the death toll at 28.

But the police said it was impossible to verify the number.

Initial reports say the ship's captain was not aware of the missing people until he was informed when the ship reached its destination in Are'are, said the chief of the navy police department, Charles Fox Sau.

At this time we cannot confirm how many people are missing as the investigation into this sad incident continues.

In a speech to the nation, the Prime Minister said a search and rescue operation was underway.

I deeply regret to know that several passengers are missing at sea after being dragged overboard by a passenger ship that left Honiara, despite various weather warnings issued, she said.

Disaster authorities in the Solomons, which has limited healthcare facilities, have been stretched as they prepared for the impact of coronavirus while the region was being battered by tropical cyclone Harold.

The island nation, with a population of just over 600,000, is one of a shrinking number of countries where no coronavirus cases have been reported so far.

Harold, with winds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h), felled trees and damaged houses before leaving and was expected to intensify before arriving in Vanuatu on Sunday night.

Although the government has not yet completed a damage assessment, it has donated A $ 100,000 ($ 60,000) in immediate emergency funds.