Papua New Guinea ferry sinks, 350 on board
Kimbe - A ferry is believed to have sunk in
bad weather off Papua New Guinea with as many as 350 people on board, its
operator said Wednesday, adding that some survivors has been found.
Star Ships said it lost contact with the MV
Rabaul Queen at about 06:00 on Thursday (20:00 GMT on Wednesday) while
travelling between Kimbe and Lae in the east of the Pacific nation.
"Bad weather, I think (it is) believed
to have sunk," Star Ships spokesperson John Whitney told AFP, adding that
there were up to 350 on board.
"(There are) survivors. At the moment
rescuers from Australia are at the site. No fatalities have been reported
Australia's foreign office said it "has
responded to a request for assistance by arranging for aircraft to overfly the
area, and will respond to other requests".
"The shipping company advises that they
do not believe that there were any foreigners on board, but our High Commission
(embassy) is seeking to confirm this, including whether any dual nationals may
have been affected," a foreign office spokesperson said.
"The government of Papua New Guinea is
managing the response to this incident. Local rescue efforts are currently
PNG's National Maritime Safety Authority
(NMSA) said the ship had capsized but it was awaiting more details from
officials at the site.
"We don't have any accurate information
as yet, a search and rescue team went out early this morning but they haven't
got back to us yet," a spokeswoman said.
Martin Mosi, head of the National Disaster
Centre, said two helicopters and a ship had been dispatched to search the area
in addition to the two search and rescue vessels sent out by the NMSA. He was
awaiting word on casualties.
Mosi said it was "very difficult to say"
what the cause may have been.
"Is it weather, is it overloading or is
it something to do with the vessel itself? We do not know but that will
certainly come to light very soon," he added.
Star Ships, among PNG's largest passenger
ship operators, runs regular services to the nation's outlying islands
including to New Britain's Kimbe, a popular dive site that attracts tourists
from across the world.