Ships torched over PNG ferry sinking

2012-03-19 08:28

Port Moresby - Three ships belonging to the operator of a passenger ferry that sank off Papua New Guinea last month killing as many as 200 people were torched by angry rebel elements, reports said on Monday.

The MV Solomon Queen and Kopra I and II were set alight on Saturday by what the local Post Courier newspaper described as "ex-combatants" in protest at the sinking of the MV Rabaul Queen off the coastal city of Lae.

The vessels were reportedly impounded by the former soldiers a month ago and set alight on Saturday at nearby Buka Island, the newspaper said, estimating the damage at worth more than US$9.35m.

Peter Sharp, head of Rabaul Shipping which owns the ships, told Australian Associated Press his business "has already been impacted" and he had nothing to say to those responsible.

"What would you say to them in my position?" he said.

According to another local newspaper, The National, "renegades" were now selling loot - particularly fuel - from the ships.

"The hijacking of the three ships started out as a means to get Sharp to pay compensation for the Bougainville lives lost in the Rabaul Queen tragedy," one ex-combatant told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.

Freak wave

"But it turned out differently when opportunists joined the cause, pretending to support our genuine interest when really they were serving their own."

Rabaul Shipping put the accident's casualties at close to 100 but local villagers say the number is more like 200. The ferry sank on February 2 after being hit by what the company described as a freak wave.

The families of victims mobbed the company's office in Kimbe after the accident, throwing stones to protest the lack of information about their loved ones welfare.

An official inquiry into the accident, among PNG's worst ever maritime disasters with 229 people listed as missing presumed dead, is due to begin in the next 10 days, according to the National.