Maureen recalls Rabaul Queen tragedy


The Rabaul Queen Tragedy of 2012 can be expressed and shared in varied ways by those who survived it.
For a young woman who was seeking refuge and comfort away from mistreatment by family members, escaping death was God’s doing.
Maureen Mesulam of East New Britain and East Sepik patentage describes her survival as God’s hand at work, while for the other passengers that was the last day of their lives.
“I left Wewak in 2009 and went and stayed with my relatives from my father’s side in Rabaul but life was not good so I decided to go back to my mother’s family. My uncle from my mother’s side heard my worries and sent me money to travel to Lae and stay with him so I got a ship ticket for Rabaul Queen and was heading to Lae,” Mesulam begins her story of survival.
“From Rabaul we arrived in Kimbe and I caught up with a grandmother of mine who lives in Kimbe so I decided to rebook my ticket for the following week to go to Lae. So I stayed a week in Kimbe with my grandmother. Rabaul Queen left on that day to Lae from Kimbe and returned to Kimbe from Rabaul the following week and that was when I got on that fateful trip.
“I was travelling by myself and was all alone on my journey from Kimbe to Lae. The feeling on the ship was not so good when we had just left Kimbe wharf. I felt and even others on the ship felt something was wrong already with the ship and it was not going right. The movement of the ship was not normal but we were thinking it might get better but it was getting worse as the night was growing old.
“But we all had faith and we were talking to ourselves to prepare for the worst and I was hoping and praying inside that whatever was going to happen must not happen in the night but in daytime so we could see properly and find ways to save ourselves. We were travelling in the middle of the ocean and we did not even see signs of land anywhere.
“It was around 5.30am to 6.00am when the ship was leaning to the right and the crew members told us passengers to balance it. I was on the left side of the ship and so I only moved a little to my right because we were really packed and there was no space to move. So as we moved to the right the ship tipped over and I was trapped inside for 30 minutes then I said a short prayer.
“Dear Lord, I’m just another sinner. Please forgive of all my wrongs and sinful ways in my life and rescue me because if I die no one will witness my death. I’m in the midst of all the bags and dead bodies floating inside the ship. Then the ship came up a bit and a girl broke a glass and I pushed my way out.
“I would not have made it because there was no way out in the ship as it was over crowded and movement was difficult at a point in time.”
Maureen was on the second deck of the ship and all the life jacket storage boots were locked and no one could open them to get the life jackets and rafts so they had no hope and were just saying their last prayers.
As they were waiting inside the ship that was already sinking very fast because the water was rushing in. (Maureen says it was like opening an empty bottle and throwing it into water and you see water rushing in).
“That was what happened to the ship. We were still inside and we saw bodies already floating up. Those were the ones who were mostly sleeping downstairs.
“All of a sudden a huge wave hit the window near which we were located and caused the glass to slide down so a lady got that opportunity and broke open the glass and we jumped into the sea without anything like life jackets but were just thinking of going out to wait for help to come.
“I brushed my fears aside and jumped out of the window and we called others to follow but some were scared and stayed back. I had no life jacket or raft at the second deck as all boots were locked but the only one’s upstairs had the luck to open theirs so they threw a raft down and we got on that one. It was around 6am when we got on the raft and floated and waited for the rescuers and right in front of us we saw the ship disappear into the ocean with the other passengers.
“It took us a whole day from 6am to 6pm on the raft until the rescue boats arrived at the scene to save us.
“Many survivors were scared of the huge ships and their propellers and one even jumped away and got part of his head sliced by the propellers but was rescued by the crews of the big fishing and container ships.
“My plan was to board mv Rabaul Queen from Rabaul and rebook at Kimbe and head for Lae but since I met my grandmother Nanuli Malmen, I was excited so I decided to stay one week in Kimbe with her until mv Rabaul Queen returned from Lae to Rabaul and Kimbe and I got on.
“My feelings were not really good because I was not happy about my stay with my father’s people and as my uncle from my mother’s side sent me a ticket to go and stay with him in Lae I was happy to travel without thinking that such a thing would happen.
“I was not happy living with my relatives in Rabual so was making my way to Lae to be with my uncle. I was in Rabaul from 2009 to 2010 and in 2011 I made up my mind to leave Rabaul so I got on Rabaul Queen and encountered this tragedy.”
Maureen is now 34, single and is working as an IT desk supervisor with Seeto Kui Ltd in Lae. Her mother who is from Maprik in East Sepik passed away in 2004.
She has two brothers, Cameron, a lawyer and Richmond who is a welding technician.
Maureen said she had lost all her school certificates and important work documents which has put her in a difficult situation to go for further studies as well to seek new jobs.
She is thankful for her current job which was given her through a certain understanding.