Opinion: How many more preventable disasters do we need to see in the Pacific?

The heartbreaking Facebook posts – mostly written in I-Kiribati say it all.

"This is the photo of our girl, who we are desperately waiting to return. We are waiting to hear from her and also from her grandmother. Please help us in your prayers, for our daughter Nei Kaere Keetana, and her grandmother Nei Taareti Manuera. We are waiting for your return with our very big love."

But the return of dozens of loved ones won't be happening.

The official list of names of those who boarded and in many cases their age takes some reading. There are the 15-year-old twins Mwanga and Riita Tetoka, their friend Aroita Tokintekai all of Maroni High School, Teitoi Fiamalu a 10-month-old baby boy, a family of four Etite Raibwebwe aged 38 and three children Raeua aged 17, Beteri aged 15 and Mokate aged 11, The list is endless, mostly young people. Impossibly young.

Many of the teens were returning to Tarawa to start the school year at Moroni High School. The Mormon college re-opened last week but the students there have been in shock, all social and cultural events put on hold as they mourn the loss of fellow students.

While a few of the missing live in the capital, Tarawa, most are from Nonouti – which has a population of only 650. There is no one there who will be unaffected as we are talking about 14 per cent of the population. The equivalent impact would be Taupo losing 4,600 of its population or Timaru losing 6,100 people.

The I-Kiribati I have spoken to believe they will be found. After all, the country has great tales of fishermen surviving many months lost at sea with no supplies of food and water. It is a culture based on survival. But not in this case as for the most part we are not talking about hardy fishermen. It's been more than two weeks and there weren't enough boats for everyone let alone the lack of food and water.

The ferry was overcrowded with a mind-boggling 100 people packed on to a 17-metre-long makeshift vessel.

In Kiribati, as in the rest of the Pacific, legislation and resources for domestic shipping and ferry services are appalling which is incredible given the precious human cargo they carry. We saw this in Kiribati in 2009 when a ferry capsized and 35 died – many of them attacked by sharks.

Headless torsos washed up on the mainland. And then there is no forgetting the Princess Ashika disaster in Tonga when 74 people were lost. In this MV Butiraoi sinking we are looking at a death toll of 93. How many more preventable disasters do we need to see in the Pacific?

It's great news that New Zealand is extending its already successful maritime safety programme in the Pacific - $16 million over three years, and the idea is to get more safety equipment including beacons on board vessels which carry passengers. But the onus is on island nations to strengthen their legislation and monitoring.

For the sake of their children.

Only seven survivors have been found and family members have attended a church service in Auckland. Source: 1 NEWS