Home > Corruption, Human rights, Papua New Guinea > PNG ferry death toll likely to rise to at least 200

PNG ferry death toll likely to rise to at least 200

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Jo Chandler

The death toll from the sinking of the passenger ferry MV Rabaul Queen off the Papua New Guinea coast two weeks ago is likely to be more than 200 – double the previous official estimate – according to the director of the disaster response effort.

A preliminary list of 183 missing was published in a national newspaper yesterday, together with an appeal to relatives and friends for help in confirming the final tally.

With the search for survivors and bodies likely to be called off tomorrow, 14 days after the overloaded ferry sank in heavy seas on the way from Kimbe, on the island of New Britain, to the mainland port of Lae, officials are still trying to reconcile reports of missing passengers with the ”defective” passenger manifest provided by the shipping company, said Patilias Gamato, director of the disaster response and deputy administrator of Morobe Province.

Mr Gamato said that according to witness accounts there were more than 560 passengers on the ferry, which was licensed to carry 310 people.

Similar reports have been running hot on PNG’s social media sites, where distress and anger over the tragedy is compounded by continuing political chaos, concerns over eroding safety systems and the failure of regulators to enforce rules.

Yesterday, the Morobe Disaster Centre published an unconfirmed list of 183 names of missing passengers in the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier.

”This is a preliminary list because the manifest is not accurate, so we are inviting relatives to contact us,” Mr Gamato said. He told The Age that he expected that the final list of missing, presumed drowned would total more than 200. Mr Gamato said 234 rescued people had been confirmed as survivors. Despite an extensive search, just four bodies have been recovered so far: that of a two-year-old boy, and those of three young women. ”This week we’ve found only debris and clothes.”

Kimbe buried the first of its dead in an emotional service last weekend. Belinda Kembu, 28, had been on a visit home to Kimbe to tell her family of her betrothal, according to local reporter Alexander Nara. Having gained her parents’ blessing she sent a text message to her fiance when she boarded the ferry back to Lae, saying: ”I will bring you to Kimbe sooner than you expect.” Six days later, he escorted her body home.

According to survivor accounts, many people travelling on lower decks would have been trapped when the vessel capsized and sank in three to four-metre swells. Mothers, infants and small children dominate the list of the known missing. Many of the survivors were students and teachers on their way to the mainland for the new school year.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has asked the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to investigate the tragedy. ”We can’t engage our own people, mainly because they will be subjected to the investigation too,” he said. ”Those that are found to be negligent in this disaster will face the law, this is the biggest and worst sea disaster we have had in the country.”

Mr O’Neill has also announced an independent inquiry by retired Australian judge Warwick Andrews.

In the days after the sinking, PNG Transport Minister Francis Awesa said he could have predicted the disaster given the state of the country’s vessels and complacent attitudes over safety.

  1. February 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I am a mother of 1 child and just reading about those mothers and their children lost at sea is so heart breaking cos i easily put me and my son into the picture. I am so sorry that there is nothing i could do to heal the wounds of the relatives of those who are lost in this ship let alone to just pray for peace to dwell amongst them.

  2. Rolland Paponurea
    February 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    The Prime Minister must put AMSA to conduct investigations immediately as it has to establish the truth and put peoples mind to rest, thoughts,sorrow and memories of our missing love ones will linger for eternity. Jail P Sharpe for life……

  3. Jackie
    February 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I cannot understand how P Sharpe has not even APOLOGIZED for this incident that claimed so many lives. He definitely needs to be put behind bars as he shows no remorse at all and has not even made any move to assist in any way that he can.. very sad indeed..

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