Inquiry says Rabaul Queen unsafe, not seaworthy

Main Stories, National

The National, Tuesday 4th September, 2012

THE Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the mv Rabaul Queen has found it was not seaworthy, unsafe and should never have departed on its final voyage.
The commission’s report, obtained by Radio New Zealand International, said between 142 and 161 people died when the Rabaul Queen sank a few nautical miles off Finschhafen, Morobe, on Feb 2 this year.
It cannot give an exact figure because of the absence of a clear manifest.
“The commission’s report says the weather and sea conditions at the time of the capsizing were gale force and, simply put, the ship should not have been where it was in the conditions that were present,” the radio station said.
The commission found the ship’s owner, Capt Peter Sharp, demonstrated that he had little or no respect for people, including those in authority.
It said this “gross disrespect” was reflected in the “appalling and inhumane conditions” in which he was prepared to let passengers on the Rabaul Queen to travel and may explain in part why he was prepared to compromise the safety of passengers on board his ships.
The report also found a number of failures by the National Maritime Safety Authority, including that it allowed itself to be intimidated by Sharp.
The commission, which sat between April 11 and June 6, was headed by Australian judge Warwick Andrew and assisted by counsel Mal Varitimos and Emmanuel Assigau.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was quoted by the radio station early last month as saying he would table the report of the inquiry in parliament tomorrow.
He said the report was discussed by cabinet.
“It is a huge concern. About marine safety in the community, and at the same time we are talking about regional transportation, sea vessels and sea transportation is an important part of the Pacific way of life.
“So, that will be one of the issues that we will be discussing.”
Meanwhile from Lae, ELLEN TIAMU reports that survivors and families of those lost in ferry disaster were eagerly awaiting the public release of the report which was handed to O’Neill in July.
The chairman of the ferry disaster Legal Action Committee representing survivors and missing passengers, Tommy Yep, said the inquiry ended two months ago but the people still did not know what the findings and recommendations were.
“If anything emerged from the disaster, it is the fact that it appears many arms of government have failed to carry out their mandated functions and duties year in, year out,” Yep said.
He said the ferry disaster would not have happened had the NMSA had carried out its functions and duties properly.
“I ask that the report be released as soon as possible.”
He called on O’Neill to ensure action would be taken on all recommendations in the report, including any call for the prosecution of any person or persons found to have committed a criminal act that contributed to the disaster.
A source in the shipping industry said yesterday: “Wherever it is, it
is already nine months since the sinking of the vessel and the loss of lives.
“The report must be tabled in parliament so it becomes a public document.”
The source said the NMSA board only had two meetings last year instead of the required four and did not convene when the ferry disaster occurred.