Then National, Tuesday 11th September, 2012
THE Rabaul Queen was permitted by the National Maritime Safety Authority to carry a maximum of 310 people, including a maximum of 295 unberthed passengers.
Rabaul Shipping managing director captain Peter Sharp told the commission of inquiry that the ship often carried in excess of the permissible number and he had issued instructions to ticketing offices that up to 350 passengers could be carried because it was the sister ship of the Solomon Queen, which the authority had permitted to carry 350 passengers.
But the two ships were not sister ships and there was no basis whatsoever to ever carry in excess of 295 passengers on board the Rabaul Queen, the commission of inquiry heard.
At the time of the sinking the exact number of passengers on board could not be determined.
This was in no small part due to the fact that there was no manifest prepared by Rabaul Shipping.
The inquiry concluded there were at least 365 and possibly as many as 384 ticketed passengers over the age of three on board at the time it sank.
The inquiry further concluded that there were 16 crew members and about 11 infants under the age of three on board the ship at the time.
“Therefore, in total there were at least 392 and possibly as many as 411 persons on board the Rabaul Queen when the ship sank on the morning of February 2,” it found.
“With respect to the search and rescue operations, the commission concludes that 246 persons were rescued from the sea and the bodies of four deceased persons were recovered.
“The commission has determined that at least 142 and possibly as many as 161 persons considered to be missing and presumed dead as a result of the disaster.”