Saturday anniversary of PNG's worst ferry disaster | Pacific Beat

Saturday anniversary of PNG's worst ferry disaster

Saturday anniversary of PNG's worst ferry disaster

Updated 1 February 2013, 17:57 AEDT

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Papua New Guinea's worst maritime disaster.

At least 140 people died when a passenger ferry sank in rough seas off the country's north coast.

Despite the scale of the tragedy and a damning inquiry, police are yet to start a criminal investigation.

Those affected by the incident say they're losing hope that those responsible will be brought to justice.

PNG correspondent Liam Fox reports.

Presenter: Liam Fox

Speaker: Tommy Yep a campaigner for the survivors and the relatives of the dead, Police Commissioner Simon Kauba

FOX: Nearly a year after the ferry Rabaul Queen sank off Lae on PNG's north coast the final death toll is still not known.

The Commission of Inquiry that investigated the tragedy could only estimate that between 140 and 160 people died.

That's because the ferry's operator Rabaul Shipping did not prepare a manifest.

The coroner is still to identify the victims so their relatives have not been able to obtain death certificates.

YEP: Many people want to move on, there were people on the ship, there were public … there were … they have other professions, and according to the law you need to provide the death certificate so that they can sort out the entitlements and all around.

FOX: Tommy Yep has spent the last year campaigning for the survivors and the relatives of the dead.

His son Theodore was a passenger on the Rabaul Queen but was among the 245 people rescued when it overturned in rough seas.

Mr Yep says the government seems to have already forgotten what happened.

YEP: Is there anyone in government listening to us? We have asked for action to be taken against those responsible, that's never happened.

FOX: The Commission of Inquiry found the ferry was unseaworthy, unsafe and should not have been sailing in the rough conditions.

Its report said the Rabaul Queen was carrying at least 80 more passengers than it was permitted to, and the crew was neither competent nor qualified.

The Commission was particularly scathing of Rabaul Shipping's managing director Captain Peter Sharp.

It said his shipping operation had been "compromising the safety of crew and passengers for years".

The Commission urged police to investigate the potential that Captain Sharp and the ferry's master had committed manslaughter by negligence.

But five months after its report was released the acting Police Commissioner Simon Kauba says detectives are yet to start collecting evidence.

KAUBA: We couldn't possibly travel to locations to interview those witnesses because of shortages of funds.

FOX: How do you think the relatives of the victims would feel that it's a year after the sinking and five months after the inquiry's report was handed down that this investigation hasn't really started?

KAUBA: Well I don't know, I don't know what they will think, but it would probably be a bit disappointing because maybe it hasn't started too early and no one has been held accountable for what happened.

FOX: Commissioner Kauba says money has now been allocated and an investigation should start in mid-February.

When the Commission of Inquiry's report was tabled in parliament the government said all 34 of its recommendations would be implemented.

Twelve of the recommendations related to the National Maritime Safety Authority, which the Commission labelled as incompetent and ineffective.

One of them was that the Authority revoke the appointment of Captain Sharp as a recognised surveyor of ships.

The Authority's CEO Chris Rupen declined an interview and is yet to respond to emailed questions about what, if any recommendations have been implemented.

Tommy Yep says the survivors and the relatives of the victims are losing hope that those responsible will be brought to justice and that maritime safety in PNG is being improved.

YEP: If they can't do something within one year then there are big questions when will they do it then? From the second year that makes it all the more harder, it's probably put in the too hard basket.

FOX: It looks like the tragedy is still unfolding one year after the Rabaul Queen sank to the bottom of the Solomon Sea.

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