Story by GABRIEL LAHOC
SEVEN children – aged between 11 months and 15 years – are praying that their mother, who is missing at sea for four days, is alive and well.
Jean Rogers Nitia, 38, was a Rabaul passenger who is among the 100-plus still missing when the mv Rabaul Queen sunk in bad weather last Thursday near Finschhafen.
Two of the eldest children, Leroy Nitia, 15, and Christine Nitia,13, and 11-month-old Lillian were reasons why the mother left the other siblings in Rabaul and made the trip to Lae where they were being looked after by her brother Leroy Batia and his wife Loretta.
She wanted to make sure the two were enrolled in school which started this week – but she never made it ashore last Thursday.
Yet, Leroy and Christine have been praying daily for their mother’s safe arrival.
They have been joined by their uncle and aunt and other relatives at the Morobe provincial disaster and emergency service centre in Lae where they have been camped since last weekend.
Their prayers and signs of hope are a sharp contrast to the gloom and heartache shown on the faces of other relatives who also are missing loved ones.
Sister-in-law Loretta said: “Jean was a mother and father at the same time, who struggled to raise her seven children on her own and was on her way to Lae to help put her eldest son and daughter back in school.
“She is humble, open, easygoing and treats her sisters-in-law as real sisters.”
Loretta and her husband are praying, believing and expecting to see her alive. They refused to accept that she may have perished at sea.
Son Leroy was so devastated by the tragedy last Thursday that he stopped eating for two days but his aunt and family convinced him that was not what his mother would have wanted.
Jean last made contact with his sister-in-law through two text messages when she was waiting to board the ship at Rabaul and when they were leaving for Kimbe.
She, like many on board who were communicating with their families and friends, described the weather as bad and the sea rough.
Loretta said when she heard of the ship’s fate, she called her mobile phone but could not reach her. The phone was switched off.
When she called Starship, workers told her that the sinking was just a rumour and that she should not believe or be concerned about it.
The Batia family and the Nitia children would camp at the centre until they know of Jean’s fate.