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PNG: Barbara Dreaver: Ferry disaster a Pacific wake-up call

Part of the front page of the PNG Post-Courier coverage yesterday on the ferry tragedy. Photo: PMC

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Item: 7813

TVNZ Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver

OPINION: AUCKLAND (Television New Zealand / Pacific Media Watch): When the Princess Ashika ferry went down in August 2009, the men - who were on the deck - reported hearing the screams of women and children trapped on the level below. It is hard to escape this horrifying image.

Seventy four dead - and as for the survivors not a woman or child among them.

Just one month earlier a 17 metre catamaran ferry capsized in Kiribati killing 33. The NZ Airforce sent a Hercules which helped find 20 survivors.

Now, just two-and-a-half years later, we have yet another passenger ferry disaster.

The PNG Post-Courier on the ferry disaster yesterday.When the MV Rabaul Queen capsized there were 350 passengers on board and 12 crew. More than 230 survivors have been picked up but with each hour ticking by hope is running out for the missing.

Most of those on board were students and children returning to school and university in Lae and the Highlands.

Three major ferry disasters in two and a half years.

Unseaworthy vessels
While the cause has yet to be determined for the Rabaul Queen, the Princess Ashika and Kiribati disasters were the result of putting unseaworthy vessels on the open seas.

There is no suggestion that the same applies to the Rabaul Queen - the PNG government has launched a full investigation into the tragedy and the result of that will no doubt be revealed over time.

Each Pacific country has maritime rules and laws - but how they are applied varies. In the case of Ashika and the Kiribati ferry the operators got away with sending unseaworthy vessels out on the open ocean because they could get away with it.

A blind eye was turned to the state of these floating coffins. It was only when people died that the true state of them were made public.

Had people known what they were travelling on they would have thought twice before climbing on board.

There have been calls from the Tokelau people for NZ to help them replace their old ship as they sometimes get scared on it.

After the Ashika went down leader Faipule Foua Toloa said his people were chilled when this event happened as when they are on their ship travelling to and from Tokelau sometimes conditions are so bad they just pray that the boat will get home.

No choice
The problem is Tokelau has no choice - the only way in and out is by boat as the three tiny atolls have no airport.

What the families of the missing in Papua New Guinea are going through can only be imagined.

While thoughts are turned towards them, it is a wake-up call to the industry in the wider Pacific to clean up their acts.

Read more Barbara Dreaver opinion

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Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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What about the 500 at the bottom of the sea?

I have been told a different story via a registered volunteer aid nurse.
The ship left port with over 700 passengers, those not on the ship's list have not been looked for.
As whole famlies were drowned there is no one left to claim they are missing.
Worst, if possible, is that of the two ballast tanks, only one had been filled, as the captain wished to beat the on coming storm & put to sea before completing the task. He used the passengers as ballast, moving them side to side. The ship was hit by two waves tipping it to its side before a third took it there again before to the bottom in two minutes .
This story was told to the nurse by a 76-year-old who had come up from below on deck. Only those on deck where among those saved.

Kind Regards
Wayne Fredricson

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