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Thursday, August 22, 2013

History of Rabaul Queen

Source: The National, Thursday August 22nd, 2013 THE mv Rabaul Queen ended 30 years of maritime service when it capsized off the Finschhafen coast, Morobe, on Feb 2 last year. The sinking of this Japanese-built vessel saw more than 160 lives lost, making it the worst in sea disaster in PNG history. The following is a brief history of the vessel until its sinking. Dec 1982: Launched as Ieshima at the Kawamoto Higashino-cho shipyard, Japan. Late 1998: Rabaul Shipping Ltd buys the Ieshima. March 5, 1999: Vessel renamed mv Rabaul Queen, issued with a PNG survey certification (and allowed to carry 295 passengers). It begins passenger services, operating initially between Rabaul and Kavieng. Its route is extended to include Kimbe and Lae. May 21, 2008: mv Rabaul Queen issued with a PNG Survey Certificate (valid until March 23, 2012). Jan 30, 2012 (3pm): The mv Rabaul Queen departs Buka wharf, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, for an overnight trip to Rabaul. Jan 31, 2012 6am-7am: The mv Rabaul Queen arrives in Rabaul. All passengers disembark and new tickets are bought for the Kimbe-Lae leg, including continuing passengers. The ship takes on fuel and water. 6.15pm: Passengers boarded and mv Rabaul Queen leaves Rabaul for overnight trip to Kimbe. Feb 1, 2012 9.15am: The mv Rabaul Queen arrived in Kimbe. 11am: Passengers board mv Rabaul Queen for its overnight trip to Lae. Reports indicate 360 passengers board. Also on board were 13 crew members, two canteen boys and the master of Solomon Queen. 12.47pm: mv Rabaul Queen departed Kimbe wharf, allegedly “packed and overloaded”. 4pm: Reaching Cape Campbell (Eastern end of Willaumez Peninsula), mv Rabaul Queen meets prevailing strong north-westerly winds and rough seas. Rounding Cape Hollmann and heading towards Cape Gloucester, rough conditions increase as rain fall. Passengers on the starboard side of the upper and open promenade decks hit by the spray from the sea and many move to the port side and inside accommodation (resulting in more overcrowding and the vessel lean to one side at no more than 5 degrees). Rough seas and strong winds continue. Feb 2, 2012 2.20am: Reaching Cape Gloucester, mv Rabaul Queen alters course for Nessup Channel (southern end of Dampier Strait). 3.30am: Chief mate calls master to navigate the boat through Siassi Islands and into Vitiaz Strait. After leaving Umboi Island, increase prevailing north-westerly wind (20-30 knots) and rough seas (to 30m). Master disengages auto-pilot and takes over the steering control. Prevailing near gale force continued to hit mv Rabaul Queen’s starboard quarters, rolling the ship and taking in water in the upper deck. List to port (leaning) continues. 5.30am: Chief mate leaves the bridge to go below to check on passengers, who are shouting “one more, one more” as the ship rides the waves. Attempts to balance the ship fails and mv Rabaul Queen continued to lean to one side. 5.45am: Morobe coastline becomes visible. 6.15am: Large wave hits the vessel on its starboard quarter. Stern pushes to port and the vessel heels over heavily to port. Master loses steering control and the ship’s heads back to port. Second wave hits starboard side, and the port side become submerged. Water starts flooding the accommodation area. Third waves hits the exposed hull and the ship capsizes. No mayday signal broadcast. Most survivors escaped 10 minutes before mv Rabaul Queen sinks. Fuel and bilge oil begin floating. Ship’s first 25-man life rafts, a few life jackets and buoyant floating devices surface. Some survivors swim and board life rafts, others are helped on board or cling to floating life jackets and floating devices. 9.40am: First ship, MOL Summer, arrive at the scene and rescued 116 survivors. Coordinate and call in other ships to the search and rescue operation. Total of 246 survivors are plucked from the sea by five ships (13 aircraft and 15 ships were involved in search and rescue). The Cap Scott rescued nine people, MSC Carole 53, Violet 39 and Zhong He 29. Feb 3, 2012 Passengers transfer from all rescuing ships to Lae harbour tugboat Victory and transported ashore.

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