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Party included scientists carrying $4,000 cash

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Aug. 30, 2011) – Police in Papua New Guinea have confirmed a boat found last week in East Sepik waters was the vessel hired by five research scientists who have been missing for a month.

Also missing are three crew who accompanied the scientists, who are from PNG's Institute of Medical Research.

Police say the scientists had been carrying 10,000 kina (just over AU$4,000) when they disappeared.

Despite an intensive search, police have failed to find any trace of the missing group, which set out on August 1.

The group was travelling from the Milimata health centre on the mainland to the offshore Bali-Witu islands in West New Britain.

There has been no trace of the money either.

New Britian provincial police commander, Chief Inspector Thomas Reu, has told Asia Pacific that other than the boat, police have discovered little to help them in their search.

"Since we lodged the search party on the fourth of this month, we haven't found anything until the 24th of this month when the boat was found on Luk Luk island," he said. "No body has been found, no debris, nothing like medical equipment they carried - [it hasn't] drifted ashore or something - we haven't found anything like that. We [have not] ruled out the possibility of piracy and murder."

Chief Inspector Reu says the group was taking a big risk by carrying so much money.

"Unfortunately they didn't arrive at Bali, we don't know whether they have drifted, or [have been victims of] piracy. We can't really verify or establish this - we're still working on it."

In an unrelated incident, police have found the decomposing bodies of two people near a boat off Manus Island.

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