Crew: Three monstrous waves hit sunken vessel

Main Stories, National

The National, Monday 13th Febuary 2012

TWO massive waves rocked the mv Rabaul Queen an hour out from Lae, sending it listing to starboard before a third wave struck and capsized the ill-fated ferry, a surviving crew said yesterday.
The crew member, Yong Yai, was reunited with his family in East New Britain over the weekend, and from where he gave a first-hand account of the country’s worst maritime disaster.
“We left Buka, then to Rabaul and Kimbe and coming near to Finschhafen where we had about an hour to reach Lae when two big waves hit the vessel on the port (left) side, causing it to list as the churning waters entered the vessel at about 6.15am,” he said.
He said moments later a third wave hit the ship and it listed even more before capsizing.
Yai said he was in the engineer’s cabin room, slowly drifting in and out of sleep, when the third fatal wave hit the ferry.
He ran to the cabin door but it refused to open and the next thing the ship was thrown into total darkness.
Yai said he felt around the cabin in the darkness when another strong wave smashed the cabin porthole, causing water to rush in.
Yai said it was then that he realised he was floating in the cabin.
By the time Yai struggled out the porthole, the mv Rabaul Queen was almost totally submerged.
At that stage, gasping for air, he spotted a life raft that had floated up from the ship. He swam to it, opened it, signalling 11 people to get on with him.
The group spotted another life raft and tied it to the one they got in and called another eight people to climb to safety.
Yai said the people in his
group comprised mostly of school students.
The ship was engulfed by the rough seas in less than 10 minutes and then slid into the depths of the ocean.
Of the 16 life rafts aboard the ship, 14 had floated to the surface and were used by the desperate passengers and crew.
His group drifted for eight hours before they were rescued by a container ship.
About 50 people were the first to be rescued by the container ship and they were later taken on smaller boats to Lae on Feb 3.
Yai, who has been working with Rabaul Shipping for the past 10 years, said he was still trying to come to terms with the sinking of the vessel.
Yai of Raicoast in Madang was among seven crew members flown back to East New Britain last Friday from Lae.
Two crew members did not survive the ferry’s sinking mishap Feb 2.
His relieved wife, Mary, from Nordup village in Rabaul district and their five children were overjoyed to have their father back at home safe and sound.
She said when she first heard of the mishap, she broke down but knew she had to be strong for her children’s sake as they waited anxiously throughout the past week to hear news of their father.
Yai said the ship was carrying its normal capacity of passengers and that the rough weather was the cause of the mishap.
He said only company the officers at ticketing office would know exactly how many passengers were on the ship at the time.
 “Our only thought at that time was to get out of the sinking vessel and hang onto any floating objects we could get hold off,” Yai said.
He said the vessel underwent dry dock repairs October last year.