Kiribati ferry
The dinghy was picked up by a fishing ship that changed its course. New Zealand Defence Force

Seven people thought to have survived the sinking of a ferry off the remote pacific island of Kiribati have been found in a dinghy by rescuers.

They were spotted by a the crew of a New Zealand defence force's Orion plane on Sunday (28 January), which was searching for the ferry that disappeared a week ago, while carrying approximately 50 passengers between two of Kiribati's islands, about 2,500 miles from New Zealand.

The dinghy was located by the plane radar but it took rescuers two hours to find the small raft adrift in the Pacific Ocean, more than 180km (112 miles) from the nearest major island, which contained seven people including an unconscious baby.

According to New Zealand authorities, the group had managed to scramble onto the small wooden raft as the ferry sank, but did not have the time to carry drinking water with them. They were also left without an engine or anything they could use to shelter themselves from the blazing sun.

New Zealand Defence Force air commodore Darryn Webb said the Orion dropped supplies to the survivors, before a fishing boat changed its course and picked up the survivors on Sunday afternoon.

Webb added that while there was a lot of debris near the dinghy, there was no sign of anyone else being still alive.

"Our heart goes out to the baby and to all those remaining of the 50-plus people," he said.

MV Butiraoi left Nonouti Island on 18 January for a two-day, 250km trip to Betio, the largest township of Kiribati's capital city, South Tarawa. However, while the ferry failed to reach its destination over a week ago, its disappearance was only reported on Friday (26 January).

Questions also remain as to why it took so long for Fiji authorities, who coordinated the first search and rescue efforts, to alert their counterparts in New Zealand.