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28 feared dead as ferry hit by storm off Solomons

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At least 28 ferry passengers were swept overboard in a powerful storm off the Solomon Islands, reports said Saturday, with the captain unaware he had lost anyone until the boat docked.

The passengers were heading from the capital Honiara to West Are’are, more than 120 kilometres away, under a government program to evacuate people to their home villages during the global coronavirus epidemic.

The MV Taimareho set sail on Thursday night as tropical cyclone Harold bore down on the Solomons, and with weather forecasters warning against any unnecessary voyages.

But the captain ignored advice not to sail, the nation’s leader said, as survivors reported dozens of people were swept overboard by huge waves and strong winds.

Local media put the death toll at 28 but police said it was impossible to verify the number.

“Initial reports say the captain of the boat had no knowledge of the missing people until he was informed when the boat arrived at her destination at Are’are,” police marine department chief Charles Fox Sau said. 

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

In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Manasseh Sovagare said a search and rescue operation was underway. 

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