Bad weather halts PNG ferry search

2012-02-03 15:04
Port Moresby - More than 110 people were missing on Friday after a ferry sank off Papua New Guinea's east coast, and rescuers feared many had been trapped inside.

Searchers found only one survivor on Friday, a day after rescuing 246 people from the MV Rabaul Queen, Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said.

The ferry sank on Thursday morning in rough seas. O'Neill said bad weather forced rescuers to abandon their search early on Friday, but it would resume on Saturday. He refused to say whether any bodies had been recovered.

Captain Nurur Rahman, rescue co-ordinator for the National Maritime Safety Authority, said he had not given up hope of finding more survivors.

"I do not presume them to be dead yet," Rahman told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Rony Naigu, a National Maritime Safety Authority official, told ABC that about 100 people are thought to have been trapped inside when the ship was hit by three large waves and sank.

'Oil everywhere'


"The sea was really rough, windy, big waves. The boat tilted once, then twice, then three times and it went over," said Alice Kakamara, who was recovering in a hospital on Friday after inhaling toxins during the sinking.

"There was oil everywhere," she said.

Kakamara said she might not have survived had she not been with her 11-year-old nephew, who urged her not to give up. They found a lifeboat, but it too was sinking. She said she put the boy on another boat and later heard from relatives that he is OK.

The ferry's owners, Papua New Guinea-based Rabaul Shipping Company, said there had been 350 passengers and 12 crew aboard the 22-year-old Japanese-built ferry when it went down while travelling from Kimbe on the island of New Britain to the coastal city of Lae on the main island.

A police official said most of those aboard were students.

"We are stunned and utterly devastated by what has happened," managing director Peter Sharp said in a statement.

Cause unclear

The company said the cause of the disaster remained unclear, but National Weather Service chief Sam Maiha told Papua New Guinea's Post-Courier newspaper that shipping agencies had been warned to keep ships moored this week because of strong winds.

By nightfall on Thursday, 246 survivors had been rescued by merchant ships battling 5m swells and 75km/h winds at the disaster scene, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

Captain Rahman said the sea temperature was above 20° - warm enough for people to survive for an extended period.

He said most of those rescued had been wearing life jackets.

He said the 47m ferry sank in 1km deep water, making it difficult to determine whether bodies were trapped inside.

The survivors were delivered to Lae, the South Pacific country's second-largest city, by five ships early on Friday, said the AMSA, which is assisting Papua New Guinea authorities with the rescue.

Lack of information

"None of them had sustained any real injuries. They were pretty cold and miserable," Lae Chamber of Commerce President Alan McLay told Sky News television.

An angry crowd threw stones at the Kimbe office of the shipping company on Thursday night, outraged at a lack of information, police said.

"There were a lot of people crying and then they wanted to know the fate of their loved ones, the people actually who were on board," Kimbe Police Inspector Samson Siguyaru told ABC.

The company said the ferry's captain had made routine radio contact with another vessel before the sinking and gave no indication anything was wrong.

O'Neill, the prime minister, said the cause of the accident was unknown, but acknowledged that safety in the shipping industry was lax.

"We need to bring some safety measures back into this industry," O'Neill told reporters.

Read more on:    papua new guinea  |  maritime

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