4 Feb 2012

Search for PNG ferry disasters survivors to continue until early next week

11:14 am on 4 February 2012

There are still at as many as 100 people unaccounted for after the sinking of a ferry off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea on Thursday.

The MV Rabaul Queen sank near the end of a 20 hour journey between between Kimbe and PNG's second largest city, Lae, after battling high seas.

The PNG Maritime Safety Authority says 2-hundred and 46 people have been pulled from the sea, but vessels and aircraft are still searching for bodies.

The search area has been widened due to the weather and drift patterns.

The search has been hampered by high winds and heavy swells, making it difficult to spot any survivors.

The Authority's Captain Nurur Rahman says people can survive for 3 to 4 days in the warmer water, and they will continue searching until they have exhausted all options.

He says debris was found on Friday, but there were no survivors with it.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that people may have gone down with the vessel. It's quite deep, it's about a thousand metres deep in this part, where the vessel was sunk. I still think there are a lot of people who would be swimming, and the coast is only nine nautical miles away, so there's a good chance that people would have swam to the coastal area and got stuck in a place where communications are not available."

Passengers on the top deck say the vessel tilted three times before it keeled over.

They have told reporters there was oil everywhere and some are now being treated for inhaling toxic substances as they climbed into life boats.

The managing director of the vessel's owners, PNG-based Rabaul Shipping Company, Peter Sharp, says the company is stunned and devastated by what has happened.

He has issued a statement acknowledging that the sinking has caused tremendous suffering, offering condolences to the loved ones of those affected.

The government has ordered an investigation into the sinking.