Monday, March 12, 2012

Lack of funds stalls mv Rabaul Queen inquiry

THE Commission of Inquiry into last month’s sinking of the passenger ferry mv Rabaul Queen is in jeopardy because the government has not released the funds it needs, The National reports.
 The commission, headed by retired Australian judge Warwick Andrew, had been hamstrung, a source close to the commission told The National yesterday.
The commission included lawyers Mal Varitimos and Emmanuel Asigau who will assist the judge. They were appointed shortly after the sinking of the Rabaul Queen on Feb 2.
The commission recognised the inquiry as a matter of national interest and concern and was embarrassed by the delay.

Family members of the missing tearfully casting their wreaths and bundles of flowers into the sea at Bobongara, Finschhafe, where the mv Rabaul Queen sank last month,  during an emotional pilgrimage on Sunday, March 4.-Nationalpic by GABRIEL LAHOC

The members of the commission were considering pulling the plug on their roles this week if the funds were not forthcoming, the source added.
The ferry, with mostly students and teachers returning for the start of the university term on board, capsized in heavy seas and sank nine nautical miles off Finschhafen in Morobe province, while on its way to Lae.
A total of 237 survivors were plucked from the sea near where the ship sank. And an official list released last Tuesday said 229 were confirmed missing, with another nine unconfirmed.
This meant at least 466 people were on board a vessel that was permitted to carry 310.
The source said the government had been given a deadline last Monday to release the money to the commission.
The head of the investigation unit tasked with assisting the commission, Mathew Yuangu, has said an estimated US$6 million (K12.76 million) was needed for the inquiry and had been submitted to the prime minister’s office for approval.
However, the source said yesterday there was no sign of any money for it to proceed.
 “Not a cent,” the source said.
“The commission has done some preliminary work which its members have paid for out of their own pocket, including airfares to Port Moresby.
“But it is unable to even secure premises to begin work or set a start date for a preliminary hearing.”
The Institute of National Affairs has said the public will not accept excuses about a lack of funding or delays to the inquiry into the ferry disaster.
Institute executive director Paul Barker said last week: “The public will not accept any excuses about inadequate funding and delays in this. The people and we don’t know the numbers, the final numbers who have died.
“The people and the relatives of those who’ve died need to have this inquiry completed.”
The Rabaul Queen sank in waters as deep as 1300m but currents are believed to have moved it to its final resting place 3200m under the surface of the sea.
The commission was set up to establish, among other things, the cause of the disaster, evidence leading to any criminal act contributing to the disaster, any evidence leading to any civil responsibility for the disaster, and the reason why the loss of live attained such magnitude.
In a letter to The National recently, reader Lus Long Solwara from Finschhafen asked: “When will the commission of inquiry into the sinking of the mv Rabaul Queen begin its hearing?

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