7 Feb 2012

PNG government promises full investigaton into ferry disaster

8:04 am on 7 February 2012

The Papua New Guinea government says a full investigation will be carried out into last Thursday's shipping disaster, amid reports that the ship was overloaded.

Two-hundred and 46 people were rescued after the ferry sank between the island of New Britain and the mainland city of Lae, but more than one hundred people remain unaccounted for.

The Minister for Transport and Works, Francis Awesa, says they will be seeking the assistance of the Australian National Maritime Safety Authority to try and find out what happened.

"It's a major major tragedy, it's the biggest ship disaster we've had in Papua New Guinea. We're still doing the preliminary investigation to be followed by a full investigation."

The Minister for Transport and Works, Francis Awesa.

Disaster officials say the manifest shows 379 passengers were on board the vessel when it sank.

The Disaster Co-ordinator in Lae, Charlie Masange, says the owner of the vessel has handed over the manifest for the Rabaul to Kimbe and Kimbe to Lae legs of the trip, which ended in disaster.

Some reports say the ship had a carrying capacity of about 350, while others say it was only meant to carry 310 people.

Meanwhile Mr Masange says weather conditions are making the search difficult.

There are aircraft and bigger vessels carrying out the search. Because of the current weather conditions, we have both rough seas and strong winds. It's very difficult for smaller vessels to go out and search. It only allows for big ships and probably fixed wings to fly over the water.

Charlie Masange says so far four bodies have been recovered.