TWO men and three women left Buka on Oct 22 for Nissan Island in a dingy, commonly referred to as a banana boat.
That day a strong wind alert was issued for the area but they left anyway as many hundreds of others do every day.
This time, however, the five islanders never arrived on Nissan, so the report went out.
A search was launched, which has been ongoing for nigh on six weeks now.
Following an aerial search over the waters off Bougainville on Saturday, the search was called off.
A Twin Otter plane chartered by the National Disaster Office was returned to base.
While rumours suggest that the islanders may have landed safely somewhere and that their disappearance is related to some clandestine activity, there is nothing to suggest this is so.
For the time being, the official version is that the islanders are lost out at sea.
If the islanders are still alive and out at sea, they are in the hands of fate now.
Last month, five New Irelanders were rescued by a ship and taken to the Marshall Islands after drifting at sea for two months.
Negotiations are ongoing for their return, with lack of finances being cited as a reason for the delay.
In September, a further seven people, also from New Ireland, were rescued near the Federated States of Micronesia and returned to PNG after drifting out at sea for a long time.
These are really too many instances of people being adrift at sea within such a short time.
In the most recent case, Bougainville Disaster Office coordinator Franklin Lessie has not given up hope but he is realistic.
Air and sea searches are very expensive exercises and quite honestly, he just does not know where to look. The Pacific Ocean is a vast expanse of water, the currents are myriad and ever changing. They could be anywhere by now.
Given the number of instances of people getting lost at sea, we endorse fully Mr Lessie’s recommendation to all travellers to take heed of sea safety regulations.
Time and again we have raised the issue in this space.
Many a time we have talked about the load capacity factor. All vehicles have maximum load limits regardless of whether they are for sea, air or land transport. You go over that limit and you are courting trouble.
While investigations into fatal accidents are never conclusive, we suspect that the weight factor has been responsible for its fair share of road, air and sea accidents.
Yet the weight limit is a very basic safety requirement. Even if the weight limit is not breached, weight distribution in a vehicle is also a crucial safety aspect.
Putting too much weight in the front or at the back or on one side will tilt the balance on a vehicle as easily as if it were overloaded.
There should always be sufficient fuel and extra fuel carried. Motor engines should be fully serviced and every operator should know basic maintenance and carry essential parts and tools with them on every trip.
Compasses and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices are today very easily available. Many mobile phone brands and even watches have GPS and although on the higher price range, when compared to one’s life, the price should rate for nothing.
In any case, here is a case for provincial governments to make available such devices cheaply to seafarers.
Flares, flashlights and whistles should form standard cargo on every boat, big or small, as well as first aid kits. Survival kits such as knives, hooks and lines and other items including long lasting food, and water should always be carried, whether on long or short journeys.
You never know when a freak current or storm might sweep one out to sea even when making a short 100m hop from one island to the next.
November and December are traditionally the season for storms and strong winds. Normally, cyclone-force storms and winds blow through the coastal areas, particularly Milne Bay, Oro, Morobe, East and West New Britain and Bougainville.
It is important that travellers take heed of wind and storm warnings, to take all necessary precautions, to let people know of travel plans and to take basic safety gear with them at all times. It pays to be always prepared. Disaster never alerts anybody it is impending.