Search for missing fishermen 'challenging'

An air force Orion is continuing its search for 29 fishermen missing from a burnt-out boat in the Pacific Ocean off Kiribati.

The Orion and crew left Samoa at 6am (NZ time) today to cover another third of the 54,000 square kilometre search area following a 12-hour flight yesterday.

Orion captain Squadron Leader Mike Pearson said the search was particularly challenging because the search area was based on the best estimate, given the absence of a rescue beacon to target in on.

He said the crew flew over a French naval vessel yesterday, which provided an onboard helicopter for 90 minutes to assist in the search.

"I have a very experienced crew with me onboard and although this is one of the toughest (search and rescue) missions we have been tasked to do, if the fishermen are in the search area we remain hopeful that we will find them."

The Orion is expected to land in Samoa at 4.30pm NZT today.

They will cover the remaining search area tomorrow before re-evaluating the search in conjunction with the Fijian and New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centres.

The fishermen are missing from a Taiwanese long line boat, the Ta Ching 21, which was found by a Korean fishing boat burnt out but still afloat near the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati on November 9.

A search of the boat showed three liferafts and a rescue boat were missing, and the air force said it hoped the 29 crew had abandoned ship in the life rafts.

But today there had been no sign of the missing liferafts or crew thought to be made up of Taiwanese, Chinese, Filipino and Indonesian nationals.

The last transmission from the boat was on October 28 and the New Zealand air force was notified on November 17.

A United States Air Force plane searched the area on November 12.

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