A Papua-New Guinea (PNG) flagged passenger ship/RoRo sunk yesterday in heavy seas off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea. 350 people are reported to have been on board the vessel.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the MV Rabaul Queen was believed to have sunk while traveling from Kimbe to Lae, in Papua New Guinea, at around 7.30am yesterday morning, Canberra time.
“Our hearts go out to those affected by the sinking of the MV Rabaul Queen,” Mr Rudd said.
“I spoke to my counterpart, PNG Foreign Minister Ano Pala, earlier today to inform him that Australia stands ready to offer all necessary assistance.”
The Australia Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is currently providing assistance to Papua New Guinea and eight merchant vessels remain on scene. 238 survivors have so far been recovered by five of the ships.
Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke with reporters in Melbourne yesterday:
“This is obviously a major tragedy. Given the likely very high loss of life here, I think when this news comes to the attention of Australians around the country they will be thinking about the people of PNG as they respond to this tragedy.”
It is expected that the five ships will passage towards Lae overnight. Arrangements for transferring survivors will be made by PNG authorities.
Earlier reports of fine weather conditions have been contradicted by vessels on scene. There are currently strong north-westerly winds at 40kts, and a five-metre sea swell.
Capt Nurur Rahman, from the National Maritime Safety Authority, said he was hopeful of finding more people alive in the tropical waters.
“People have survived for up to two days,” he told the Associated Press news agency. He also added that the number of people who were on board may be lower than previously reported – perhaps at about 300.
AMSA continues to provide ongoing assistance to the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) with coordinating search efforts.
The five vessels, with a total of 238 survivors on board, proceeded to Lae last night, with the first vessel arriving shortly after 1:00am AEDT.
The passengers are being transferred to Lae by the port’s tug, under the coordination of PNG authorities. In addition to the three merchant vessels on scene, four aircraft will participate in this morning’s search – two local helicopters, AMSA’s dedicated search and rescue Dornier aircraft from Cairns and a Careflight lear jet from Townsville.
Today’s search will commence at first light (approx. 7:00am AEDT).