By GABRIEL LAHOC in The National
One of the most eventful developments since the worst maritime disaster in Papua New Guinea on February 2, 2012 was the special and emotionally-charged voyage to Bobongara, Finshafen, by over 250 family members of missing passengers and crews of the sunken inter-island ferry, mv Rabaul Queen.
For them, the trip was an important one as they like the authorities have now officially recognised their loved missing ones as dead.
It was an opportunity to retrace the last moments of the missing people and ultimately pay their last respects.
Fathers, mothers, grandparents and children representing the different families of the more than 200 passengers and crews believed to be missing, made the solemn trip which was facilitated by the Morobe provincial disaster committee on a chartered trip on board Lutheran Shipping’s mv Mamose.
|Two mothers from different ethnic background weeping in each others arms as others cast out their wreaths and flowers.-Nationalpics by GABRIEL LAHOC|
|Family members of the missing tearfully casting their wreaths and bundles of flowers into the sea at Bobongara.|
Three parents from different ethnic backgrounds, after casting wreaths and paying their last respects, starring out into the sea with teary eyes, lost in their own reminiscence of their loved ones.
|Family members of the missing, facing the ocean and weeping as mv Mamose turns back to for the return trip to Lae.|
Family members in calmer waters viewing the scenic Finschhafen coastline.
Families of missing passengers and crew on arrival at Maneba station, where the locals welcomed them in an emotional ceremony.
|Reverend Wala Baru Arua addressing the audience after the service. He plans to write a book and use proceeds towards the planned annual pilgrimage to Maneba and Pontification point which lied inland from Bobongara.|
|Locals lining the Maneba wharf and waving goodbye to the families of missing crew and passengers.|
Accompanying the families were government officials led by acting deputy provincial administrator for district services, Tony Ase, the Morobe provincial disaster and emergency services officers, police and military personnel and the media.
The captain Stephen Peki sailed out of the LuShip wharf at Voco Point at 7am into a glorious morning complemented by fine weather and calm seas.
After eight hours the ship sailed into scenic the Maneba station which houses the Luship wharf, for the scheduled special memorial church service.
Locals at the wharf led by the local Mama Gejamsao (women’s group) from the local Lutheran Simbai parish, tearfully welcomed their visitors with their traditional mourning songs which set the emotional tone for the rest of the trip.
They shared in their visitors’ mourning, reminding them that their loved ones, despite being strangers to them had died in their environment.
From a makeshift shelter at Maneba station some kilometers away from Bonga and Lakuna village, which are located inland from the famous Bobongara spot, the locals joined their heavy hearted visitors in the service led by Pastor Gaigami Tala, who commended the families for making that special trip.
After the service, Lakuna elder Tami Leona and Bonga elder Afeke Itum Eriasa took the stage to give their visitors an insight of the nature of the Bobongara and their firsthand account and experience of that fateful day when the ship sank.
The legendary Bobongara, the dreaded location just off Pontification point near the two villages, features the clash of some of the strongest currents which flow along the Vitiaz Strait located between Siassi Island and the Finschhafen mainland separating the northern Bismark Sea and Solomon Sea located on the south.
They said traditionally, passengers and seafarers demonstrated deep sense of respect of the Bobongara when crossing by being silent, and also by offloading cargo into the sea when the waves got bigger.
The locals who also spent their time in the search and rescue operation, said on that Wednesday afternoon, 12 hours before the ferry sank, they noticed the arrival of the Bobongara through the gathering of dark clouds on the horizon and tremors, without knowing that a tragedy was going to happen.
The most-touching message to the families was when the locals revealed that they had done traditional rituals in gathering the spirits of the missing before coming to meet the visitors.
“Their spirits are here with us, as we gather together today,” said Miring Bamiringnuc.
Reverend Wala Baru Arua, spokesperson of the aggrieved families, described their missing loved ones as voiceless victims.
“After losing my son, I now know how God felt when his son died, and I want to thank you the people of Finchhafen, we the families now know that our missing relatives are now with friends,” he said.
His request for permission for an annual pilgrimage and a monument at Pontification point was gladly granted by local elders.
After more than an hour the visitors were given a fitting traditional farewell for the final leg of the trip to Bobongara, local mothers tearfully sang and waved them farewell in true Morobe mourning fashion.
Just off Pontification Point some nautical miles, Captain Peki steadied the ship while Rev Arua led the families in prayer through the ship’s intercom before they cast their wreaths into the sea.
Loss and grief was the only thing these families and individuals had in common.
It was an emotional scene, people from different ethnic backgrounds crying together for their loved ones.
Men, women and children solemnly paid their last respect, cast their wreaths of flowers, personal items of the missing, performed traditional burial rituals, wept openly and comforted each other on a calm, beautiful open sea.
Government disaster committee, after consulting the locals two weeks earlier, advised against the sinking of headstones and crosses.
mv Mamose sailed into Voco Point at 1am Monday morning, families departed with soft spoken goodbyes and solemn faces.
The final task of Ase’s committee now is to establish a monument at Pontification point, inscribed with the names of all missing crew and passengers.
The monument will ensure regular visits from families of the missing, who have established relationships with the locals.
Ase thanked all individuals and organisations who assisted to make the event a success.
Rev Arua plans to write a book about the shipping disaster and use the proceeds of its sale to organise and assist the new network of families who lost loved ones, to go on yearly pilgrimage to the monument.