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PNG Ferry Sinks with 350 Passengers

Rabaul Queen Inflatable Life Rafts with PassengersEarly Thursday morning, a Papua New Guinea (PNG) ferry sank between Lae, the second largest city in the country, and New Britain. Authorities confirmed that 238 survivors had been pulled to safety from the rough seas by the evening, but rescue efforts were slowing due to bad light and poor weather conditions. With over 100 people still missing, the rescue efforts were due to continue at first light on Friday. Then on Friday, it was reported that nearly 250 people were rescued and over 110 were feared dead after being trapped in the MV Rabaul Queen as it sank.

Rabaul Shipping Company, the owner of the ferry, said that there were 12 crew and 350 passengers on the MV Rabaul Queen when it sank on Thursday morning en route from Kimbe to Lae. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is helping with the rescue efforts, said that, by nightfall, 246 survivors were rescued by merchant ships and taken to Lae by early Friday morning. Lae Chamber of Commerce president Alan McLay told reporters that none of the survivors suffered any real injuries but were rather miserable and cold.

According to a police official, most of the passengers were students. Inspector Samson Siguyaru said that, Thursday night, an outraged mob was throwing stones at the Kimbe office of Rabaul Shipping Company due to a lack of information. There were many people crying and wanting to know about their loved ones. He had to send officers in to rescue workers and take them to a safe location, he added.

Rabaul Shipping Company managing director Peter Sharp said that they are shocked and devastated about what’s happened. The company says they are unclear about what caused the disaster. However, National Weather Service chief Sam Maiha told local media that shipping agencies were warned to keep vessels moored this week due to strong winds.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill also noted that the cause of the tragedy isn’t known, but recognised that safety in the shipping industry was lacking. They need some safety measures brought back into the industry, he added. Australia High Commissioner to PNG, Ian Kemish says that bad weather was a factor in the accident. He believes it’s fair to bet that the severe weather experienced in some areas of the country played a part. However, he can’t say much more about why the ferry sank right now.

The AMSA said that two airplanes, two helicopters and three ships continued the rescue efforts on Friday. PNG National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA) rescue coordinator Captain Nurur Rahman said he’s not giving up yet in finding more survivors. He told media sources that he isn’t presuming anyone dead yet. With no more survivors reported by late Friday and no bodies found, Captain Rahman said that the sea temperature is above 20°C, which is warm enough for people to survive for an extended amount of time. Most of the people rescued were wearing life jackets, he noted.

NMSA official Rony Naigu told reporters that about 100 people were believed to have been trapped in the ferry when it was hit by three big waves before sinking. One passenger recuperating in the hospital, Alice Kakamara, told journalists that the sea was really windy, rough and spawned large waves. The boat tilted three times and then capsised, while oil was everywhere. She said she may not have survived if she wasn’t with her 11-year-old nephew. He encouraged her not to give up, and though it was sinking, they found a lifeboat. She put him on another boat and heard from relatives later that he’s okay, she added.




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