The 22-year-old Japanese-built MV Rabaul Queen ferry has sunk northeast of Papua New Guinea’s mainland. Authorities report that about 200 of the 350 passengers that were on board have been rescued. There were also 12 crew members aboard the ship.
PNG’s National Maritime Safety Authority has lifted between 198 and 219 survivors of the ferry accident onto six international merchant ships that have been instructed by Australian authorities to aid the passengers. Official confirmation of the number rescued has not been confirmed. Currently, there are no reports of any bodies being found. There is at least one National Maritime Safety Authority onboard one of the rescue vessels coordinating the rescue efforts of this disaster.
Initial reports worried many, as they said as many as 350 people may have perished as the ferry sunk. They were travelling from Kimbe, New Britain to Lae, Papua New Guinea. Australia has pledged their support to its closest neighbor. They sent over an aircraft, three helicopters, and ships to thoroughly search the wreck site. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged for ships in the area to conduct rescues and for aircraft to fly over the area. The aircraft assisted with dropping rescue equipment, including life rafts.
Most passengers on board were students and trainee teachers; the shipping company stated that the probability of foreigners being on board was unlikely. A full investigation into the incident has not been announced, but officials do express concerns on bringing effective safety measures back in to the maritime industry. The reported cause of the sinking is extremely bad weather, but overloading or vessel issues have also been brought up. The Herald Sun said that the ferry’s captain had routine radio contact with another vessel prior to the sinking and gave no indication of trouble. Locals are categorizing this incident as a major tragedy; there will more than likely be loss of life.
Star Ships, among PNG's largest passenger ship operators, runs regular services to the nation's outlying islands.
UPDATE: February 3, 2012
An estimated 100 people are believed to be trapped in the sunken ferry that became a victim to large waves and rough weather off Papua New Guinea. Approximately 246 survivors that clung to life on floating debris in extreme conditions have been rescued and taken to Lae.
Australian merchant ships and aircraft have returned to the site to search for additional survivors.
A final passenger list has not yet been made available, but rescuers have stated that about 352 people were on board at the time of the incident. Survivor testimonies explain how the ferry rolled and then sank in deep water after being hit by massive waves.
Liferafts and floating debris helped passengers survive before being rescued by the merchant vessels; about 100 people were not able to get out or to a liferaft on time. Numerous opened capsules were found with no people in them. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority reports that weather conditions have slightly improved, but high winds are continue to hinder rescue efforts. Survivors have been in fairly good condition, aside from dehydration and fatigue. No bodies have been recovered.
Rabaul Shipping, the ship’s owner, still have no information as to why the ferry went down, after relatives of the passengers stoned their offices in an attempt to get answers. A full investigation into the tragedy has been promised by PNG governmental authorities.