Over 200 rescued as ferry sinks off Papua New Guinea
AFP PORT MORESYB MORE than 200 people were plucked from waters off Papua New Guinea on Thursday after a ferry sank but dozens remained missing with rescuers scouring the choppy seas for survivors.
Operator Star Ships said it lost contact with the MV Rabaul Queen at about 6 am while it was travelling between Kimbe and Lae in the east of the Pacific nation, blaming bad weather for the disaster. Star Ships said there were 350 passengers and 12 crew onboard, Australian news agency AAP reported late Thursday. The passengers were PNG locals, mainly students.
It added that the 22-year-old Japanese-built ferry — which in the past has carried up to 550 passengers — sank in deep waters near the end of its journey.
The PNG National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA) said it was first alerted by a distress signal and confirmed that “the vessel has sunk and passengers are in the waters awaiting rescue”.
Rescue co-ordinator Captain Nurur Rahman said it was too early to say why the ferry went down, refusing to speculate on whether the ship was overloaded.
“Our priority at the moment is to save lives, but it is an unusual occurrence,” he told AFP, adding the Rabaul Queen had “completely sunk”.
“We’ve had a few cargo ship mishaps before, but never a ferry,” he added. Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the ship went down about nine nautical miles (16 kilometres) off the coast and it was helping coordinate the rescue, with 238 people saved so far and eight merchant ships on the scene.
It was not clear however how many people were missing, an AMSA spokeswoman said.
“Initial reports say (there were) 350 (on board), however three passengers who have been rescued from the water have said the number could be higher than that.” Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was quoted as saying by the AAP news agency that “a large number (are) still remain missing”.
Rough seas were hampering the rescue effort, AAP said, quoting Rahman. A number of the survivors were to be airlifted to hospitals for treatment for dislocated shoulders and other injuries, Rahman said, adding that he had not “heard anything about fatalities”.