The National, Wednesday July 11th, 2012
GENERALLY, survivors interviewed were consistent that the mv Rabaul Queen had a list to port once leaving Kimbe which aggravated on the passage to Lae (at a time when) the ship was overcrowded with passengers squeezed into three decks, an NMSA preliminary report into the sinking says.
The report contained 16 accounts by survivors interviewed by the police and disaster officials at Lae and Rabaul shortly after the sinking.
“The Rabaul Queen was overcrowded according to initial count at the disaster centres by at least 50 people,” the report said.
“Estimates show 560 passengers, 379 on manifest and 179 not accounted for. There were 237 survivors.
“At the time of investigation, both disaster centres at Lae and Rabaul were still coming to terms with numbers of survivors on/off manifest.
“Fake claims had arisen and this could confuse the actual numbers. A very high level of scrutiny was instituted to verify the number of passengers.
“Master and crew did not practise or have not practised safety induction and demonstrations to passengers prior to sailing.
“Emergency procedures, plans and evacuation instructions and information were not available to crew and passengers. “Drills were not maintained by the master and crew and the operators appear to condone this as it did not have a ship Safety Management System (SMS) in place.
A control inspection of a sister ship, mv Madang Queen, confirmed the non-practice of carrying out safety induction and safety demonstrations to passengers and the availability of emergency procedures plans and evacuation instructions and information.
The stability of the vessel was also examined.
“It was consistently stated by survivors that most people were on the leeward side and as the vessel was heeled on listed to port, crew members asked passengers to move over to the starboard side to try and equalise weight distribution.
“Most did not comply with the request as they would get wet on the windward side. The vessel continued to sail with a port list.
“No effort was made by the crew to determine the cause of the heel or list.
“The vessel’s behaviour was said to be consistently listed or heeled to port and not returning to the upright with each roll.”
“With many passengers being on upper decks and some reportedly even in the wheel house deck, it is reasonable to consider that the centre of gravity of the ship would have moved to a higher position than normal.”
A survivor from Kimbe, Manui Sui, 53, who lost his wife and son in the tragedy, told police in a statement that he was sure there were more than 500 passengers on board when mv Rabaul Queen left Kimbe.
“. . . when we travelled and we felt and witnessed the ship was like on one side and not balance”.
The sea was not rough and passage was smooth when they left Kimbe, Sui said.
“It was around 6.30am, I came down to the second deck and stood there when the first wave hit the ship and it went left . . . . the second wave hit the ship and it went over and the sea started to go inside the deck.
“I stood there watching if my wife and son, if they come out, but I see no sign of them and at the same time the ship started to go down. . .
“I was the last person to jump off the ship into the rough seas . . .”