By ELIZABETH VUVU
IT took an hour-and-a-half for the National Maritime and Safety Authority’s (NMSA) search and rescue coordination centre to receive accurate information about the mv Rabaul Queen’s sinking in 2012, it was revealed yesterday.
The delay was due to lack of equipment and staff in what was supposed to be a 24-hour operation, an authority official told the ferry trial in the Kokopo National Court.
The centre’s only staff was on his way to work when the disaster occurred on Feb 2, 2012, with at least 350 people on board.
Ferry owner Peter Sharp and his captain face at least 170 counts of manslaughter.
NMSA senior search and rescue coordinator Fred Siroi, responding to questions by defence lawyers, said he was supposed to be on a 24-hour call, but was still making his way to his office on the morning of disaster.
Siroi said he was the only staff member in NMSA’s maritime rescue coordination centre in Port Moresby so the centre could not maintain a 24-hour service.
He said he eventually got accurate information an hour-and-a-half after the ferry sank off Finschhafen, Morobe.
Siroi said that was because the distress beacon was still narrowing down on the ship’s location.
“It does not make any difference if the unlocated alert issued by the Australian rescue coordination centre (RCC) could not immediately pick up mv Rabaul Queen’s location.
“We had a process to immediately ask RCC to activate a safety broadcast on behalf of PNG,” he said.
Siroi said due to a lack of digital equipment and being under-staffed, they relied on Australia to help in the search and rescue through an agreement.
He said mission control centres in Australia provided distress alert information or messages to search and rescue authorities in New Zealand, New Caledonia and PNG.
He said at about 7.40am on Feb 2, he received a telephone call from Charlie Masange of the Morobe disaster centre in Lae.
Masange told Siroi that he had been advised by a police officer that mv Rabaul Queen might have sunk off Finschhafen.
Siroi acknowledged the telephone call.
At 7.55am, Sharp contacted RCC telling them he could not contact one of his ships – the passenger ferry mv Rabaul Queen – which was carrying about 350 passengers, the court was told.
Ten minutes later, RCC rang Siroi, telling him that the emergency beacon (EPRIB) on board the mv Rabaul Queen had been activated and that it was possible that the ship had sunk. Siroi asked RCC to initiate an alert broadcast to ships in the vicinity of the EPRIB location.
He said in response, the mv Mol Summer indicated it was half an hour away from the ferry and would help.
Siroi graduated from the Papua New Guinea Defence Academy in 1975 and entered the navy.
In 1997, following a three-year assignment as director of maritime operations at the PNG Defence Force headquarters in Port Moresby, he retired.
Siroi was employed by the NMSA in search and rescue from 2010.
He said mariners and shipping companies must make it their business to have in their possession the emergency numbers of the National Maritime and Safety Authority.
By ELIZABETH VUVU