The 259 gt
ro-ro ferry Rabaul Queen sank off the Northwest coast of Papua New Guinea near Finschhafen. The Rabaul Queen was traveling between the ports of Kimbe and Lae with around 300 passengers when it encountered bad weather. A distress call was sent out and four nearby merchant vessels responded. One vessel reported that it had pick up 28 survivors. Initial reports state 50 people total have been rescued with many pulled directly from the sea. Two helicopters were deployed from Lae to search for survivors. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is assisting the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in the rescue efforts.
Some 238 people have been rescued from the Rabaul Queen. Conflicting reports state there were some 300 to 350 passengers and 12 crew on board the vessel when it sank. Many of the passengers were students and teachers. Rescue efforts continue to find people in life rafts, but conditions have limited the number of vessels involved in the search. The last report stated some eight vessels and multiple aircraft were still involved in the rescue effort. The Rabaul Queen sank rests roughly a kilometer under water leaving little evidence of its sinking. The cause of the sinking is still not known.
Survivors have reported that the vessel had lost stability before it capsized. From these reports, we know the ferry had been struggling to recover when being struck by a series of large waves. One report states the vessel tilted over three times before it capsized. Many on the top deck were able escape, but many others were trapped inside the lower decks. The Rabaul Queen remained afloat for another four hours before it sank. Many survivors stated they struggled in oily water looking for anything to keep them afloat.
- Authorities have released that the Rabaul Queen was rated only to carry 310 passengers.
- Weather Service had an advisory and warn vessels about the adverse conditions.
- The master of the ferry had contacted other vessels, but did not report any problems.
- Rescue vessels reported 5 meter swells and 45 mph winds where the Rabaul Queen sank.
- The ferry was following a standard route between Kimbe and Lae. The vessel had been on the same route for past 11 years.
- The Rabaul Queen had been in drydock the previous year.
- The ferry was built in 1983 in Japan