37 passengers and crew were rescued but four are now being declared dead. Two of the dead are a 10 month old baby and a crew member. Police divers say the other two bodies will remain on board as the ferry is now at a depth to deep to recover the bodies.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Vanuatu Deputy Commissioner Police Operations John Taleo
TALEO: The cause of the ferry that capsized on our about 4.30, the early hours in this morning is due to the fact that the ferry was overloaded with cargo and passengers on board.
COUTTS: It was also talked about that the boat had been in for repairs and had a hole in the super structure. Is that correct?
TALEO: I can confirm affirmative, that's correct.
COUTTS: And, so it might not have been seaworthy when it went out this morning?
TALEO: The boat is not seaworthy to transport passengers and even not to service, to delivery of services to the islands of the Republic of Vanuatu.
COUTTS: Do you know what happened from eyewitnesses. Did it tilt to one side and capsize, what actually happened or did it hit something in the sea, what happened, even though it was overloaded?
TALEO: Yes, as you mentioned earlier, that there is a hole under the barge was very true. The main thing put the ships to capsize is because there is a hole on the bottom of the hull and also overloaded with gallon of 6,000 litres of fuel, copra, pack of kava and all the cargo which is topped it up to the super structure of the boat, for the barge rather and also the carrying capacity of passenger is only 30, but they overloaded with 41 passengers, including crew as well on board.
COUTTS: Are there likely to be charges for the ship owners and the captain for taking an unseaworthy vessel out?
TALEO: There will be a charge laid against the owner of the ship and also the authority of Ports and Harbour Authority, those inspectors from the Ports and Harbour Authority that issue licence. T hey knew exactly that the boat is not seaworthy, but they still continue to persuade further for issuing the licence for suprvised that the boat is seaworthy, which is absolutely wrong. The boat is not seaworthy to carry passengers on board and the safety of the ship, the safety of the crew and the safety of passenger is paramount for the captain of the ships to take on board and also the owner of the ship. This was overlooked and that's a classic example for other trading vessel operates in Vanuatu to that is a big lesson learned. And we will carry out investigation and also we will sack these authority, especially the Ports and Harbour Authority who granted the vessel seaworthy to operates in the waters of Vanuatu.
COUTTS: And what are the charges likely to be?
TALEO: The charges will be, one of the charges will be I guess that the ship is not seaworthy and negligence of following the correct procedure under the shipping act that the sea, the vessel must be seaworthy before she granted a Certificate of Seaworthy and it's a neglection of their official duty to certify that the boat is seaworthy.
COUTTS: Have those charges been laid yet or are you still to lay those charges?
TALEO: The investigation is still ongoing at this time, as we speak, for the captain and the crew and the engineer of what happened of the early hours this morning when the ship leaned to the port side of the ship and then slided and then capsized.
However, that body, including 10 months old baby and also one of the crew on board the ship and two female which is already deceased are now in the mortuary of Vila Central Hospital in Vanuatu.
COUTTS: So are you saying that you've recovered all the people, so the 37 were rescued, then there were two bodies that were found, but I thought there were still two missing. So are there four dead now?
TALEO: That's exactly, I confirm there is four deaths, including the 10 months old baby and one of the crew on board the vessel and also the two female that we recover the body as of midday today, they also recover, but the two body still stranded on board the vessel.
COUTTS: So there's still two bodies missing?
TALEO: Exactly, there's two body missing, but two we recovery by these scuba divers went on board and the vessel now is under the bottom of 350 metres down.
COUTTS: All right. So the two remaining bodies will not be recovered, they'll be left on the ferry?
TALEO: That's exactly, because the depth of the water is about 350 metres down, we left the body, because it's very risky for us to get the divers down as soon as possible, whilst we took off the boat, the two female body and then the ship sank within one minute.
COUTTS: Have you been able to speak to any of the 37 that were rescued from the ferry?
TALEO: I spoke to the captain of the ship, as I'm in charge of the operation, I was on board Big Sista the ferry, we did a search and rescue this morning. I was in charge of the search and rescue and I did spoke to the captain of the ship. The issue at the moment of the barge is, there is no proper equipment on board, like there's no radio on board and they only operate through a mobile phones and not the radio channels 16 for alerting ships nearby that if the ship is sinking, that the captain of the ship responsibility is to give a may day distress . A may day distrerss was not conducted on board on channel 16 on radio. It is only calling the Vila central police station on a free toll line by using one of the passengers mobile phone was still alive and the battery still not wet, so that's the only means of communications that I was contacted by the Commissioner of Police early hours in the morning as I'm responsible operations, therefore I have to charter one of the ferry that also carry out inter island shipping towards the northern island of Vanuatu. So yes, I can confirm that poor communication on board the ship and the ships capsized not a minute or less and that's the reason why the four passengers still stranded on board lateness or whatever. It's just happened within a second where the boat capsized, the port side of the vessel.
COUTTS: So the vessel didn't have life rafts or the passengers didn't have safety vests either and there were no flares?
TALEO: They have flares on board, they have life raft on board, they have four life raft that carrying the passengers to 25 maximum people on board. Only issues that I'm raising here is there is no radio communications. Right if the captain of the ship, you can call in your distress signal for giving may day distress when the ships ready to sink one. Two is the captain, the responsibility of the captain is to discharge that the eperb. that the eperb will give us the locations of the position of the vessel, this was not concurrent this morning.
COUTTS: Commissioner, are there are another points that you'd like to make or we've pretty well covered it all?
TALEO: Yeah, I think one of the main issues surrounding the Pacific islands is the trading vessels that operate in all the Pacific Island, all the Pacific Forum countries today is the owner of the ship, they think of raising money, but the considerations that they have to bear in mind is of course, they take into consideration the safety of the ship, the ship must be seaworthy and also the safety of the crew and the passengers. We see incidents up in Papua New Guinea, we saw it happen incidents happen Tonga and also in Vanuatu and Fiji as well. And we have lesson to learn from what we learn that all the trading vessels that operate in Vanuatu have to have safety requirements and proper seaworthy certificate that they can operate, otherwise the authorities can face prosecutions for ignorance of provision of law and also negligence of their duties and responsibility and role and function that they discharged within the government services and also to the service delivery of people of the Republic of Vanuatu and other parts of the Pacific.