The National, Tuesday 07th Febuary 2012
THE Australian High Commission has expressed its deepest sympathy to families in Papua New Guinea who lost loved ones during the sinking of the mv Rabaul Queen.
“The thoughts of Australians are with those families at this difficult time,” High Commissioner Ian Kemish said.
As might be expected of a close friend and neighbour, Australia has been heavily involved in support of the PNG-led response to this disaster.
At 7.25am AEST last Thursday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) rescue coordination centre received an initial satellite detection of a distress beacon belonging to the passenger ferry mv Rabaul Queen. This information was immediately communicated to the PNG maritime rescue coordination centre.
AMSA broadcast a message to shipping in the area and requested shipping to advise of their ability to respond and estimated time of arrival.
A number of vessels responded and nine arrived on the scene to undertake rescues with assistance from local craft.
The first of the Australian aircraft to be deployed – a Cairns-based AMSA Dornier aircraft – then arrived on the scene.
This had the capability to drop life-rafts to assist survivors while they waited to be collected by merchant vessels.
A Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion aircraft also joined in the search that first day, and two other civilian aircraft and three helicopters were engaged by AMSA in the search.
Reports at 10.50am that day indicated that the vessel had
sunk and the assisting vessels were recovering many survivors from the water.
Reports from the scene at that stage indicated that the vessel could not be seen, indicating that it had sunk in water of around 1,700m in depth.
However, the aircraft continued to search for several days after the sinking.
The Australian authority also deployed several Australian rescue and recovery personnel to Lae to assist.
The high commission deployed a naval officer to the National Maritime Safety Authority and other Australian Defence members, led by Major Rod Clavan based in Lae, coordinated with local agencies here and arranged refuelling of the aircraft.
AusAID provided 250 blankets and 250 rubber sleeping mats for survivors, which were distributed through local organisations, including the PNG Red Cross.