The National, Thursday 6th September, 2012
By SHIRLYN BELDEN
RABAUL Shipping owner Peter Sharp could be arrested and charged with criminal negligence for the deaths caused by the capsizing of passenger ferry mv Rabaul Queen last February, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion told parliament yesterday.
Dion, who tabled a Commission of Inquiry report into the sinking of the passenger ferry off Finschhafen, Morobe, on Feb 2, said while the commission highlighted the possiblity of criminal action, that decision would be left to police.
“The Criminal Code provides that a person who kills another may be guilty of manslaughter by criminal negligence, in this case overloading the ship and sailing in poor weather,” Dion said.
The report estimated that between 142 and 161 people died in the tragedy.
Two hundred and forty-six passengers were rescued and just four bodies recovered.
The damning report said the ship was unseaworthy and unsafe and had sailed despite warnings of bad weather.
“We owe it to these people (victims) to ensure sea transport is reliable,” Dion said.
“Unfortunately, this was not the case for the passengers on the Rabaul Queen.
“Before the ship left the dock in Kimbe, a number of fatal mistakes had been made,” he said.
The report said the ferry was cleared to carry 295 passengers but had at least 392 people on board on its final journey.
It said the exact number of fatalities could not be determined because the operator, Rabaul Shipping, did not prepare a manifest.
“At the time of the sinking, the owner of the Rabaul Queen, Capt Sharp, had been compromising the safety of passengers and crew on all his ships, which he has done for a number of years,” Dion said.
Dion said: “Ships were regularly overloaded, they sailed in unsuitable weather conditions and the fleet was poorly-maintained.”
Recapping the events of the night the ship went down, Dion said: “It was no wonder the passengers were terrified.”
The inquiry, ordered by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, was conducted by Australian judge Warwick Andrew with Manuel Varitimos and Emmanuel Asigau assisting.
The ferry was “packed” and “overloaded” when it left Kimbe for Lae on Feb 1 with 360 passengers, 13 crew, two canteen boys and the captain (Anthony Tsiau) on it, the report said.
Overcrowding was a major contributing factor to the disaster.
It additionally found, among other issues, that there was inadequate weather information before the vessel set sail despite a warning of strong winds, inappropriate and incompetent crew members, no effective safety training drills, lack of vessel maintenance and no vessel stability checks were made before it sailed.
The commission was of the view that Sharp had been compromising passengers and crew safety on all his vessels for a number of years.
The commission said Sharp
had breached aspects of the Maritime Safety Act including “overloading the ship which carries an K8,000 fine, endangering the lives of the passengers which has a K40,000 fine and unsafe loading of passenger ship which also has a K40,000 fine”.