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SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Sept. 7) – A woman whose stepsister is missing in waters off Fiji has appealed for Australian federal help in a search that is being mounted by the missing woman’s mother.

Stephanie Walsh lashed out at the Fiji Government during her interview with the Townsville Bulletin yesterday for a slow response to a plea for help to find Danielle Gibbons, 26, from Bega, New South Wales.

Ms Gibbons, who had been working as a tutor for dive boat operator Dan Granier, 54, for the past few months, went missing on Tuesday in Vatu-i-Ra Passage, off Rakiraki.

Mr Granier, who is a former US Navy Seal, is also missing.

Mrs Walsh said the Fijian authorities did not advise the family of Ms. Gibbons’ disappearance until Wednesday.

She said the Australian Government initially told Ms Gibbons’ mother, Janice, there were diplomatic sensitivities to overcome before they could become involved in a search. Australia did offer to send a Hercules aircraft to take part in the search, but Mrs Walsh said that idea was soon rejected when it was decided a Hercules was unsuitable for the mission.

A spokesman for Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday the family could be assured the Australian Government, through the High Commission in Suva, was doing all it could to help find Ms Gibbons.

"It is a terribly difficult situation for the family," the spokesman said. "We have a High Commission in Fiji and they have been extremely active in this since Danielle went missing. "Staff have been liaising with Fijian authorities to make sure the search is being conducted in an adequate manner. It has been on-going to make sure everything that can be done is being done. But sadly, at this stage, it’s all been to no avail."

The spokesman said the search had been scaled down but he was unable to confirm whether the official search had been called off. He said Ms Gibbons’ family, who had traveled to Fiji, including her mother and sisters, was being helped by the Australian consulate.

Mrs Walsh said it was disgraceful that Ms Gibbons’ distressed mother was now left to coordinate a search for the pair.

"If you send a child overseas on holiday or for work as an Australian citizen and if something goes wrong in a Third World country then bad luck, you are left high and dry by the (Australian) Government," Mrs Walsh said. "You are not important enough to help. From my information, the Government did too little too late, and inappropriately."

Mrs Walsh said the Australian Government was still able to help the family by perhaps providing monetary assistance to fund the search for the pair.

The pair was dropped off at the passage about 8am for scuba diving and asked to be collected at 2pm. But there was no sign of the two divers when the boat returned for them in the afternoon. This conflicted with international diving standards where a boat must always be in the diving scene.

September 7, 2004

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

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