MV RABAUL QUEEN arriving in Kimbe Port, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea on March 16 2009. Photo by Michael Pennay (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0).
Update 4: February 3 – The PNG Maritime Safety Authority says 246 people have been pulled from the sea, vessels and aircraft are still searching. The Authority’s Captain Nurur Rahman said that people can survive for 3 or 4 days in the warmer water, and they will continue searching until they have exhausted all options.
The search has been hampered by high winds and heavy swells, making it difficult to spot survivors.
Queen Elizabeth II, who as head of the Commonwealth is Papua New Guinea’s head of state, sent a message of sympathy to Papua New Guinea via Governor-General Michael Ogio, her representative in the country. An investigation is launched in to the sinking.
Update 3: February 2 – The owners of MV RABAUL, Papua New Guinea-based Rabaul Shipping Company, (previously referenced as Star Shipping) stated that there were indeed 350 passengers and 12 crew aboard the ferry when sank between Kimbe on the island of New Britain to the coastal city of Lae on the main island. By nightfall, 238 survivors had been rescued by ships battling 16-foot (5-meter) swells and high winds.
Update 2: February 2 – A revised number of those rescued now stands at 219 survivors rescued by five ships. The original number of 350 passengers and crew has been called in to question, the number may be lower, according to officials.
Update: February 2 – Over 230 survivors have been rescued from the sea off Papua New Guinea’s east coast after the ferry MV RABAUL QUEEN sank Thursday. Officials believe as many as 350 people may have been on board.
The 1983-built, 259 gross ton, Papua New Guinea-flagged passenger/ro-ro ferry MV RABAUL QUEEN is believed to have sunk in bad weather off Papua New Guinea with as many as 350 people on board. The operators, Star Ships, said it lost contact at about 6 AM on Thursday (local time) after a distress signal was sent by the ship while sailing between Kimbe and Lae in the eastern part of the Pacific nation.
PNG’s National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA) said the ship had capsized but it was awaiting more details from officials on the site. “We don’t have any accurate information as of yet. A search and rescue team went out early this morning but they haven’t got back to us yet,” a spokeswoman said.
Star Ships added that some survivors have been found, many more were in the water in life jackets.
Australia’s foreign office said it “has responded to a request for assistance by arranging for aircraft to overfly the area, and will respond to other requests”.
Two helicopters and a ship had been dispatched to search the area in addition to the two search and rescue vessels sent out by the NMSA. There is no further details on casualties.
Star Ships, one of PNG’s largest passenger ship operators, runs a regular service to the the islands, including New Britain’s Kimbe.