PNG’s Rabaul Queen case could reopen

On the eve of the 7th anniversary of the sinking of the MV Rabaul Queen, come renewed calls for justice.

MV Rabaul Queen. Credit: PNG Commission of Inquiry

A court case into the sinking of the MV Rabaul Queen in Papua New Guinea in 2012 could reopen after protests from families and survivors.

In 2012 the Rabaul Queen capsized and sank in heavy seas en route from Bougainville to Lae, killing 140 men, women and children.

The sinking was subject to a Commission of Inquiry in 2012, which found the vessel unseaworthy.  The Commission recommended the captain and shipowner be subject to criminal proceedings for manslaughter.  It also called for a shakeup of the PNG National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA).

Despite the Commission findings, however, the court acquitted ship owner Captain Peter Sharp, the ship’s master Anthony Tsiau and the company’s Kimbe branch manager Grace Amen in July 2017 following a no-case submission by their lawyers.

The trial concluded in October 2018 after the Public Prosecutor agreed not to pursue the lesser charges against Sharp, Tsiau and Grace of sending or taking an unseaworthy vessel to sea.

After public outcry, PNG Attorney General Davis Steven told local press, he would use his powers to reopen the investigation.

Tommy Yep, chair of the Rabaul Queen Action Committee, told Safety at Sea he is also writing to the Bougainville Provincial Government and the Member of Parliament for Rabaul Open, Dr Allan Marat, seeking their help.

“(Marat) was the one who raised the Rabaul Queen issue in the last Parliament. I have also copied my report on the evidence presented at the Commission of Inquiry and the hearings – also the full findings and its recommendations. As to why the Public Prosecutor couldn’t use this, beats me,” Yep told Safety at Sea.

Yep’s son, Theodore, survived the sinking by smashing a porthole window and swimming to the surface, but has never fully recovered from the trauma.

Carolyne Maniot, lost two of her sons in the tragedy.

“They must receive justice, because Peter Sharp and Tony his captain, made a big hole in our hearts to this day we still cry,” she told Australia’s ABC Radio.

In her eulogy to her father Claudene Patel said the sad thing was everyone forgot the good he did.

“He learnt early on that maritime standards in PNG was not up to his or international standards,” she said. “He sent staff down to do their tickets in Australia. (He) would bring lecturers to Rabaul and train his staff properly. He believed safety was paramount. Dad would always try to keep his vessels up to international standards. He was always asking me for the latest in regulations. He would regularly be challenging NMSA as he had higher standards.

“Dad was so strict with safety and people’s safety that he went above and beyond constantly in order to look after people around him,” she said. “This is the person no one talks about. He was acquitted because (the Judge) couldn’t find evidence of any wrongdoing.”