Mum and three children among 14 family members lost at sea

WARNING – CONFRONTING CONTENT: Fourteen members of the same family have been lost at sea in a devastating tragedy that has shattered a nation.

The family, from the Solomon Islands, was in one of two boats that were on their way to a burial from Gizo, the capital of the Western Province, to Harapa in the Shortland Islands – a distance of about 170km.

The boat, containing eight adults and six children, never reached its destination on New Year’s Day after encountering bad weather in the large stretch of water between the islands, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force said in a statement.

A photo posted online shows the last images taken of the victims before the tragedy.

At least four adults and five children can be seen sitting in a shallow wooden boat, with several small islands pictured in the background.

Four adults and five children sit in a small wooden boat. Small islands can be seen in the background.
The body of Joy Lalu, circled, was found on Tuesday. Three of her children remain missing. Source: Facebook

Grandfather confirms loss of granddaughter, great-grandchildren

On Tuesday, the body of a woman was found after fishermen discovered debris from the vessel, including a wooden coffin, a gasoline tank and a bucket.

“A close relative has identified the dead body and confirmed she is one of the passengers on board the 75 horse powered engine that has gone missing recently,” Assistant Commissioner National Operation Evelyn Thugea said.

“The dead body started to decompose but a tattoo written at the back and the upper left arm was still visible to identify the body.”

The victim’s grandfather identified her as Joy Lalu. Three of the other victims onboard the boat were Ms Lalu’s children.

A map of the Solomon Islands showing the path of the boat that went missing.
The two boats were travelling from Gizo to Harapa in Shortland Island when one became lost and the other experienced mechanical difficulties. Source: Google Maps

Ms Lalu’s grandfather took to Facebook to thank people for their support and condolences.

He also shared confronting details about the state of his granddaughter’s body and said her remains would be sent back to Gizo before being taken to a traditional burial site.

“The body that was found was that of my grand daughter – her 2 hands and 1 leg were eaten by wild animals of the sea,” he wrote in one post.

“As of evening today, her deformed body was placed and kept in a coffin with courtesy of a very responsible Government of Choiseul Province,” he continued in a second post on Wednesday.

“The body will be transported to Gizo at 5.00am tomorrow morning. Thanks to Premier Harrison Benjamin and your Executive Committee.

“The body will then be taken from Gizo to its final resting place to be buried in our traditional burial site on the island of Vella la Vella.”

A wooden coffin floats in the ocean and a red gasoline tank is pictured.
Fishermen came across debris floating in the water, including a wooden coffin intended for the burial in Harapa and a gasoline tank. Source: Solomon Star News/Facebook

“I thank everyone for your condolences and heartfelt support to the family of the deceased.

“With broken hearts, we say thank you.”

The relationship between the other victims is not immediately clear, bur Ms Lalu’s grandfather confirmed they were “extended family” all from the same household, which is common in the Pacific islands.

Two boats became separated after mechanical difficulties

Two boats left Gizo together on Saturday morning, but became separated when one of the vessels encountered a mechanical issue.

The second boat, containing Ms Lalu and her family, continued towards Harapa, but was never seen again.

The boat that broke down was forced to drift until they reached land on Sunday morning, where they were able to alert police.

Fifteen passengers on that vessel were uninjured.

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