More than a year since the Rabaul Queen tragedy, investigations remain uncompleted and relatives continue to seek closure.
“How am I
going to explain in a few long years to my two grandchildren what their
father has perished,” he says.
asked my daughter-in-law to share her experiences at the first anniversary
service, she said: ‘I can’t because I might harm the relationship I have with my husband. To me he is still at work.”
Reverend Arua Oala, stands in front of sparsely populated church pews at the Cassowary road United Church in Lae. His eyes slowly scan the faces of those present and he fights back tears as he talks about his son, Arua Baru, who died in the Rabaul Queen disaster in February 2012.
|Rev. Arua Oala|
Arua Baru, was the Rabaul Queen’s chief engineer he died when the ferry, sank in stormy weather off the Morobe coast. According to witness statements, the ferry was overloaded when it left Kimbe for Lae. Onboard were over 300 passengers - many of them were students returning to intuitions in the Momase and the Highlands for the start of the new school year.
Reverend Arua is one of hundreds of relatives and survivors who are still coming to terms with the loss of their loved ones more than a year after the worst maritime disaster in Papua New Guinea’s history.
In a society where the spiritual and the physical are seen as one and the same, many of the families cannot accept that their family members have died because 179 people remain missing to this day.
|Rabaul Queen survivor minutes after the rescue|
Tommy Yep, chairman of the Rabaul Queen Action Committee, the group formed to take legal action against the shipping company and its owner, Peter Sharp, it has been extremely difficult to bring some sense of comfort and closure to the relatives and survivors.
“For Papua New Guineans it is difficult to get on with life because we don’t have a body bury. For us it is unnatural,” he says.
“We need to have a body to bury and grieve over in order to end one chapter and move on to the next.”
Yep’s son was a passenger on board the Queen. He was fortunate to have survived. But the psychological trauma of the disaster has affected him so much that he has been unable to live a normal life.
“My son just left his job in and he has gone back home to take care of his family and try to pick up the pieces.”and the survivors has been very limited. Counseling sessions stopped two weeks after the disaster and those affected by the tragedy have had to fall back on traditional family structures to draw support. But it has not been easy when multiple family members have died.
Catherine Maniot from Bougainville lost three of her sons. Two were studying at the National Polytechnic Institute in Lae. Her eldest was on his to becoming a mechanical engineer. For almost a year, she has been trying to close their bank accounts. For many, it seems a trivial matter. But for Catherine, closing her sons’ bank account will mean a step forward. But it has not been easy to close the account. The bank has asked for death certificates which have not been provided by government coroner’s office.
“I am lost. I don’t know what to do,” she says. “It’s like a dream. I wake up one day and three of my boys are gone. How am I supposed to get on with my life?”
The start of investigations into the disaster was announced one day after the first anniversary of the of the Rabaul Queen disaster. The government reacted following mounting public pressure.
But the investigators faced ongoing funding problems. Police teams in Lae and Kokopo were not allowed to reside in hotels and hired vehicles were taken back by the owners after the initial lot of funding was used up.
Months short of end of investigations, teams were called back to the Police headquarters in Port Moresby. The official explanation has been that the money required to complete the investigation had not been released.
As the delay drags into fourth month, the action committee has called on the Police commissioner, Tom Kulunga, to explain why the investigation has not been completed and why there have not been any arrests made since the disaster over a year ago.