Australian girl among 13 people found after 36 hours adrift in banana boat off Bougainville

The parents of an Australian child who was missing in Papua New Guinean waters for more than 36 hours are relieved she’s been found safe and well on a remote island.

Five-year-old Lilycae Kilvert set off in a dinghy from Buka, the capital of Bougainville island, with her grandmother, their dog and 11 other passengers on Wednesday morning.

But their boat failed to arrive at Nissan Island, where it was headed.

It wasn’t until late on Thursday evening that Lilycae’s father, Andrew Kilvert, found out his youngest daughter was missing.

“We were all worried,” he said.

“Normally, I absolutely forbid my children getting in these banana boats.

The coast of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea
The coast of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which has sailing conditions that can be very dangerous.(

Lloyd Jones, file photo: AAP


“But she was just so excited to go with her Grandma back to the island, that I said, ‘Well look, it’s really calm weather conditions … so I will make an exception this time.’

“And anyway, it was the wrong exception.”

Mr Kilvert, who is Australian but has lived in Bougainville for 30 years, said sailing conditions in the area were extremely dangerous, with the sea up to 4 kilometres deep.

A map showing the areas that make up Bougainville in orange. It is northwest of Solomon Islands and to the east of PNG.
Bougainville is a series of islands to the east of Papua New Guinea and the north-east of Australia, and is part of the same island chain that makes up the Pacific nation of Solomon Islands.  (

ABC News: GFX/Jarrod Fankhauser


“You’ve got a chain of volcanoes that are hanging out of deep oceans, they get huge currents that are swirling through, and so it’s difficult to predict the drift,” he said.

Mr Kilvert owns a boating service in Bougainville and said he often had to rescue people in dinghies.

On Friday morning, he was loading food and petrol onto his boat, ready to start searching for Lilycae and the other travellers.

Imelda looking down, wearing an orange, black and light blue striped bandana and matching singlet.
Lilycae’s mum Imelda cried tears of joy when she was found.(

Supplied: Darcy Kilvert


But just as he was about to leave, a call came through saying the boat had arrived on another island about 50km north of where it had been headed.

Mr Kilvert said he and his wife, Imelda, cried “tears of joy” at the good news.

“Happy … we were very happy. We’re gonna go and get my little Lily and bring her back home,” he said.

Lilycae being pushed in a wheel barrow by a boy.
Lilycae’s family feared the worst when they heard she was missing.(

Supplied: Darcy Kilvert


Yesterday afternoon, Mr Kilvert set off on the 20-hour overnight trip to the Feni Islands, to retrieve his daughter.

Lilycae’s older brother Darcy, who lives in Newcastle, in New South Wales, said it was a huge relief.

“We are so lucky. I’m glad my sister is OK,” he told the ABC.

Picture of the family sitting behind a pink table with food and bottles on it.
The Kilvert family are normally not allowed to travel on the banana boats.(

Supplied: Darcy Kilvert


While it’s a happy ending for the Kilvert family, the incident has sparked reminders for others to be careful at sea.

Bougainville’s Police Commissioner Francis Tokura says this wasn’t the first time a boat had gone missing in the province.

“It’s about time people listen to the strong wind warnings, and they must also have safety gear on their boats, flares and vest as well, so when the boat sinks, at least they can float,” he said.

He also said people should tell authorities where they were going before travelling by boat.

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