A PASSENGE ship with more than 400 passengers on board plunged onto a reef near Kimbe Bay on Wednesday afternoon.
No casualties have been reported but all passengers on board the vessel were evacuated out of the ship by a tug boat. The eviction exercise lasted more than eight hours and involved local police and a security company in the province.
The 78 meter boat, MV Solomon Queen was heading for Lae after picking up passengers in Rabaul and Kimbe when the captain lost control of the radar reading and plunged into the reef some 800 meters away from the Kimbe wharf.
A tug boat was called in to salvage the ship out of the reef with the passengers on board but could not do much due to a low tide.
A shocked captain of the ship told this reporter that due to heavy rain coupled with fog and darkness he could not read the direction well and laid the blame on his first officer who was directing from the outside. He said he would no t read the radar clearly and advised his first officers to control the direction of the ship from outside.
He was however, directed to steer the ship directly onto the reef thinking the direction he took was to the open sea.
This would not be confirmed as most of the crew and the first officer locked themselves up in the cabin in fear of their lives. Angry passenger, Kerene Anton said that had the captain and his crew not locked themselves, they would have been attacked. Fortunately for them also, the police arrived in time to take charge of the situation.
"You are dealing with hundreds of human lives and somebody, the captain or the engineer must come out and tell us what actually happened and we hit the reef," another passenger said.
The shaken passengers complained that the vessel was overloaded beyond its capacity of 200 passengers. A head count after the mishap confirmed there were over 400 on board.
This reporter asked the agent to confirm the number of passengers on board. The lone woman who supervises the operations of the shipping company in Kimbe said she would check the manifest and confirm the actual number of passengers.
Attempts to get comments from the owner of the shipping company were unsuccessful but an investigation will be carried out by the PNG Maritime Safety Authority to verify the cause of the accident.
Meanwhile, those passengers who traveled in from Kavieng, Rabaul and the Solomon Islands were told to fight the cold night at the wharf area while those in Kimbe and Bialla were asked to go back home and come the next day to book on the next ship which was already on its way after learning about the mishap.
It was also confirmed that the ship was also tugged out and is anchored at the Kimbe wharf.