Melbourne, Feb 3: Rescuers stepped up efforts to save the lives of over 100 people feared dead, including large number of students, a day after a ship with over 350 on board sank off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
Helicopters and ships are continuing to search for more than 100 people missing after the Rabaul Queen sank off Papua New Guinea's north coast yesterday.
The vessel owned by PNG-based Rabaul Shipping sank east of Lae some 16-km from shore. The company said in a statement that there were 350 passengers and 12 crew onboard.
“Almost 250 people rescued in a joint Australian-PNG operation have reached the eastern PNG town of Lae,” an official said.
An official said there were fears people had been trapped in the ferry.
The ship was headed for the PNG north-coast town of Lae from the West New Britain town of Kimbe. “We acknowledge that this has caused tremendous suffering. Our condolences go to the loved ones of those affected,” Rabaul Shipping managing director Peter Sharp was quoted as saying by BBC.
So far a total of 246 people have been plucked from the water. Most of the survivors who have returned to Lae were taken to the local hospital, the report said.
“Over 200 people had been rescued - most of them from the water,” Rescue coordinators Captain Nurur Rahman said, adding that several passengers were still unaccounted for.
The search for the missing passengers - mostly university students - resumed at daylight. Officials said there were fears people had been trapped in the ferry.
Capt Rahman said the rescuers are scouring the area for more survivors. He said it was too early to say why the ferry went down, refusing to speculate on whether the ship was overloaded.
Most of the survivors who have returned to Lae were taken to the local hospital.
“None of them had sustained any real injuries. They were pretty cold and miserable,” Lae Chamber of Commerce president Alan McLay told Australian media.
Relatives of the passengers, angered by a lack of information, threw rocks at the company's office in Kimbe on Thursday, Australian media reported. Local police said it had to move the staff to an undisclosed location.
According to survivors, the ship was hit by huge waves before it rolled and sank. Some had to cling onto debris in the water before they were picked up by the six merchant vessels alerted by Australian authorities to head to the scene.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has ordered a probe into the tragedy.