News24

Papua New Guinea ferry rescue continues

2012-02-02 16:02

Sydney - The tally of survivors from the sinking of a coastal ferry in Papua New Guinea on Thursday reached 238 with no reports of bodies being pulled from the water.

The MV Rabaul Queen went down around 16km off Finschhafen while sailing from the island of Kimbe to Lae, the South Pacific nation's second-biggest city.

Papua New Guinea's Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesperson Nerae Mari Mahu said estimates of the numbers aboard ranged between 300 and 350, but that the owners of the 47m vessel, Rabaul Shipping, were yet to produce the relevant documents.

She confirmed reports that many of those aboard were either students or teachers.

"We're optimistic that with this amount of co-operation that the rescue will go well," she said. "We won't rest until everyone is accounted for."

China's official Xinhua news agency reported that a Chinese vessel had picked up 29 people from the sea.

Weather


The rescue centre was relying on the logistics of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority for the co-ordination of the rescue.

The authority's Jo Meehan said eight vessels were at the scene, along with three helicopters, and that Australian aircraft had dropped life rafts to those in the sea.

The authority said earlier reports of fine weather conditions have been contradicted by vessels on the scene.

"There are currently strong north-westerly winds at 40 knots and a 5m sea swell," the authority said in a statement.

Alan McLay, head of the Lae chamber of commerce, said a large crowd had gathered outside the deserted offices of Rabaul Shipping in Lae.

"The local villagers are very hesitant in venturing out to sea to assist the rescue in fear for their own lives [they know their own coast]," McLay wrote on PNG's popular Malum Nalu website.