A search and rescue operation is heating up in the Pacific Ocean near Kiribati, where passengers from a missing ferry were discovered Sunday. The 56-foot MV Butiraoi ferry was carrying at least 50 people, and perhaps 100, when it departed on a two-day, 150-mile trip from Nonouti to the island of Betio on Jan. 18, reports the BBC. It didn't arrive as scheduled and, for unknown reasons, New Zealand's military—which is responsible for patrolling the area in question—wasn't notified until a week later, reports the New York Times. An air search began on Saturday, and seven passengers—including a 14-year-old girl—were found floating in a 16-foot aluminum dinghy on Sunday, a search spokesman tells the Times. The BBC counts the number of survivors at eight.
An air commodore says the survivors are "pretty dehydrated" after a week "in the baking sun." The Guardian notes they didn't have water. Picked up by a fishing boat more than 100 miles from the nearest major island, they reportedly said the ferry split in two and sank; the vessel underwent repairs to a propeller shaft before departing after it ran aground on an atoll. Still, officials are optimistic that more survivors may be found. Kiribati's president, Taneti Maamau, says 100 people might've been on board the ferry, which had two dinghies, per the New Zealand Herald. Australian and American rescue teams are now en route to help search a 200,000-square-mile area 500 miles west of Kiribati, a country made up of 33 atolls located halfway between Hawaii and Australia, per the Guardian. (Read more Kiribati stories.)