Caption: PNGIMR director Prof Peter Siba… 'massive search going on'
By MALUM NALU
Management of the PNG Institute of Medical Research has refuted "malicious allegations" on EMTV that it was not doing enough with the search and research and rescue efforts for its missing researchers.
The five missing staff from the PNGIMR - Tanya Oakiva, Gibson Gideon, Leonard Vavana, George Dogoya, and Lydia Petrus - departed Milimala on mainland West New Britain destined for Bali Island on Aug 1 and have never been seen since then.
"There seems to be lack of communication between relatives here in Goroka and other centres, and this has led to relatives getting emotional and over-sensitising the issues in the media," PNGIMR director Prof Peter Siba said today.
"Since receiving news of the missing team, IMR has provided huge financial support towards the search operations.
"This is of the biggest search operations in the history of PNG with the assistance of West New Britain provincial disaster office and the administration, National Disaster Office, National Maritime Safety Authority, Digicel, New Tribe Mission, Islands Airways, North Coast Aviation, Niugini Helicopters, Police and NBC West New Britain being engaged in search and rescue efforts.
"The efforts include aerial searches along the New Britain island and the smaller islands within the West New Britain waters, Islands as far west as Long Island, Siassi islands, Bagbag, Karkar Island and along river tributaries on the main West New Britain mainland.
"Provincial disaster offices in other provinces including East New Britain, New Ireland, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Manus, Madang and Morobe have been informed and are doing what they can to assist."
Prof Siba said as the area where the boat went missing was known for piracy-related activities, police had now been engaged.
"Due to the sensitivity of the situation, much of the information on police activity is not available," he said.
"Boat sightings have been reported, but, many of these stories are second, third or fourth-hand news and difficult to pinpoint the person who saw the boated and reported it initially.
"The IMR management appeals to the locals to assist us in providing factual information about any sightings of the boat or missing people.
"Search and rescue efforts are now concentrating on land as piracy becomes the main focus of investigations by police.
"PNGIMR, in dialogue with the West New Britain provincial disaster office have since put a reward for information leading to recovery of its staff.
"The search is still continuing and we ask the relatives to understand the magnitude of this search operation and provide positive contributions and not malicious and negative attacks against the IMR.
"The missing staff are employees and 'family' members of the PNGIMR, which is a State entity of the Government of PNG.
"The IMR management and staff sympathise with the families of the missing staff, and are regularly updating the relatives."
Prof Siba said the 2011 PNG Medical Symposium in Kimbe was still on, and could not be dictated by anybody other than the PNG Medical Society.
"As usual, the IMR, as the premium research institution in the country, is sending a large group of participants to attend the symposium," he said.