Summary of the commission of inquiry’s findings

National, Normal

Then National, Tuesday 11th September, 2012

THE Commission of Inquiry engaged the services of Rib Gehling, of Rob Gehling and Associates Naval Architects, to produce an expert report and provide evidence to the inquiry on matters relating to stability load line, maritime safety and the cause of the disaster.
The commission considered Gehling’s evidence and all of the other available evidence and determined that although the Rabaul Queen’s loading condition did not meet all of the specified stability criteria, a lack of reserves of stability was not the primary cause of the sudden and large angle of heeling resulting from the first wave that hit the ship at about 6.15am on Feb 2.
However, the commission is of the opinion that Rabaul Queen was unsafe for the voyage from Kimbe to Lae and accordingly should not have sailed.
The capsize
The commission concludes that the Rabaul Queen capsized after being broached to when it was hit by a large wave on its starboard quarter.
This caused the ship’s bow  to sheer to starboard, the ship to keel over to port by a large degree and for the master to lose steerage.
Weather forecasts
and conditions
The weather and sea condition forecasts issued by the PNG National Weather Service showed that on Feb 1 the following gale wind warning was issued ‘northwest winds of 34/48 knots are expected to persist for the next 24 hours’ causing very rough and high seas for the waters off Finschhafen and the Vitiaz Strait.
Capt Peter Sharp
and his companies
At the time of sinking of the Rabaul Queen, the owner of the ship was Hamamas Lines Ltd and the operator was Rabaul Shipping Ltd.
Capt Peter Sharp was the managing director and a shareholder in both companies.
The law
It is not for the commission to ultimately, pursuant to Term of Reference 3, to say any criminal liability contributing to the disaster.
That is a matter for the courts invested with criminal jurisdiction. The commission is, however, required to inquire into and report upon evidence leading to any criminal act contributing to the disaster.
This requires a consideration of the relevant criminal law.
Search and rescue
The search and rescue operation for the survivors of the disaster was competently undertaken by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Port Moresby and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra, Australia.
Reason why the loss of lives attained such magnitude
Any accident involving a transport vehicle carrying a large number of people is likely to result in many fatalities.
However, the commission considers that the magnitude of the loss of life as a result of the capsize of Rabaul Queen attained that it did because of a number of factors which were significant – overcrowding, design of ship did not allow for easy escape of large number of passengers.