11 Feb 2012

More than 300 people now feared to have died in PNG ferry sinking

6:09 am on 11 February 2012

It's now feared that more than 300 people lost their lives in last week's ferry sinking in Papua New Guinea.

The MV Rabaul Queen sank in rough seas near the end of a 20-hour journey from Kimbe to PNG's second largest city, Lae.

Charlie Masange of the Morobe Provincial Disaster Management Office says the number of people rescued has been recalculated as 237.

He says new information from relatives of those onboard puts the number of people missing at 321.

"And we found that about 179 could be unaccounted for meaning they did not purchase those tickets properly or in a right way, they might have just given the money to the ticket person, they just got on board the ship at Kimbe."

Charlie Masange says it was up to the ship's captain to restrict the number of passengers to the 310 it was licenced to carry.

A church worker looking after survivors of last week's ferry disaster in Papua New Guinea says many of them are dealing with stomach pain after swallowing oily seawater.

Angela Worealevi of the Catholic Diocese in Lae says her centre is housing 66 survivors, 35 of whom are students.

She says a number of the survivors are coming to terms with the loss of a parent and many are also dealing with injuries from the sinking.

Some of them they have these injuries from the cuts, you know if they were breaking the glass of the boat to come out and some from the oil and the sea mixed together that they - when they were drowning or something - they drank the water. But a lot of them are having stomach pain.

Angela Worealevi says the centre is treating the survivors and Lae's people and business community are providing a lot of food.

A former member of the board of the Papua New Guinea body in charge of maritime safety says it was almost impossible to make the owner of the ferry that sank last week obey the rules.

The National Maritime Safety Authority says the ship's owner, Peter Sharp, runs a company that controls more than 90 percent of PNG's passenger ferry market.

Radio New Zealand International asked the authority's former board member, who asked not to be named, if Mr Sharp generally complies with regulations.

He wouldn't allow people on his boats, if for inspections and things like that he'd put gag orders on his staff, so I would say, I think that would probably have to be a no.

A former member of the board of PNG's National Maritime Safety Authority.