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By Neville Choi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (February 10, 2000 – The Independent)---Although a great tragedy, the capsizing of the MV Feni off the coast of Namatanai in New Ireland province brings to light the blatant disregard by sea going vessels and travelers of maritime travel safety laws.

Many factors may have contributed to the demise of the MV Feni on that fateful day, but one fact remains. Maritime safety regulations were not adhered to.

The MV Feni was grossly overloaded. Overloaded to the point where it was carrying 210 more passengers than it should have been.

The National Coordinator of the Maritime Search and Rescue Center, Eka Elori, in an interview with The Independent, was sympathetic over the loss of those who chose to travel on the MV Feni that day, but said that the odds of meeting a complication were made greater by the overloading of the vessel.

"The boat was grossly overloaded. Reports we have received finalize the number of passengers on the MV Feni at the time of the tragedy (at) 230, when the vessel was certified to carry only 20 passengers. It was grossly overloaded," Mr. Elori said.

The MV Feni was a 13.73-meter long ex-government fleet vessel which was used in the early 1980s.

It had a wooden hull, and according to official records, had a survey certificate to carry 20 passengers and a maximum of one ton of cargo.

According to Mr. Elori, there are laws in place to prevent such tragic happenings, but even though they are being enforced at the bigger ports, ships like the MV Feni, which are quite isolated and run isolated routes between islands, are harder to control and enforce regulations upon.

Chapter 242 of the Merchant Shipping Act governs the issue of the maritime safety regulations and list penalties.

Section 88 of Chapter 242 states, "The number of persons to be carried in a shipment must be in accordance with safety certificate issued."

If this law is breached, then the fines to penalize offenders are K400 plus a K10 fine per passenger exceeding the required number indicated on the survey certificate.

The tragic effects of overloading sea bound vessels has again occurred in PNG, and according to Mr. Elori, it is about time for captains and owners of sea bound transport vessels to place the safety of their passengers and cargo above making a greater profit.

"Vessels are usually monitored by provincial maritime officials from the regional controller’s office based in Rabaul, where the New Guinea Islands head office is. Any ships operating in and out of the islands provinces would have been monitored. In this case, however, they were so isolated that nobody in authority would have seen them," Mr. Elori said.

He further explained that what was needed now was for the owners of the vessels and small boats that carry people to put money and making a profit last.

"They should be very concerned about the safety of their passengers. Their safety must come first," he said.

He also highlighted that it could not be established whether the MV Feni was properly equipped to deal with emergencies, which includes having communication equipment capable of contacting mainland authorities.

"At the time of the tragedy, we had no radio contact whatsoever. It was only one or two hours after that that we learned of the tragedy," he said.



PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (February 10, 2000 – The Independent)---Last Thursday, the entire public service of the department of New Ireland converged on the Kavieng Airport Terminal to receive the body of one of their colleagues who had passed away in Lae.

From the airport, more than 30 government and private-owned vehicles organized a spectacular convoy along Lavongai through downtown Kavieng to the Kavieng Hospital.

On Friday, a full-house funeral service was held at the Kavieng Cathedral.

On the same day, a small group of relatives and members of the Disaster and Emergency Services congregated to lay down the decomposed body of a 15-year-old girl from Tanga island. She was one of the passengers on the MV Feni and was traveling to continue her second year of high school. She was among the first of the passengers on the ill-fated MV Feni to die.

There were no students from Mongop High School to farewell one of their schoolmates - a normal tradition. There was no convoy for this simple schoolgirl who, if she had lived, would have contributed to the development of Papua New Guinea. There were no momentous words from Very Important Persons (VIPs) to commemorate the life of this innocent girl whose fate was not of her own doing, but that of those of us who are alive now and could have been in a position to have averted that terrible disaster.

The tears were few compared to the wailing at the viewing of the body of the public servant. But on this day, the two different deaths had their own stories. Each had its own significance.

History The far-flung islands of Anir, Tanga and Lihir had always used their small ferry to transport travelers from the islands to Kavieng. Most times, the ferries would be overloaded.

On that day, the MV Feni carried more than 200 people.

The MV Feni was a former government workboat that was purchased by former Namatanai MP Sir Julius Chan.

He also purchased a boat for the people of Lambom that was called Julius Chan, a boat for Lihir called Pangpang and a boat for Tabar called Matima.

Successive members of Tanga and Anir in the New Ireland provincial government have not seen or probably have not had time to analyze the problem that the boat was old, meaning that it was not seaworthy, or would not have passed a surveying test.

Again, the question arises as to why the Department of Transport allowed an "old saucepan" like the MV Feni to continue to carry cargo beyond its capacity.

The communities of Tanga and Anir in Kavieng have been trying to meet with the present Member of Parliament for Tanir (Tanga and Anir), Leo Toarmanil, but he has failed to meet with them.

It is understood that Mr. Toarmanil’s failure to meet with Tanga and Anir leaders has angered relatives of those affected by the disaster.

New Ireland provincial government The special Provincial Executive Council (PEC) meeting held shortly after the disaster occurred, discussed ways of helping the students by paying their school fees, using the MV Tohian to transport them back to Tanga and Anir, and then, in two weeks time, ferry them back to Namatanai.

The assistance by the NIPG has been seen as practical action by a government for, and of the people. But many are now questioning why such human considerations by the provincial government only surfaced after the tragedy and why it wasn’t in place before.

Criticism has also been aimed at the provincial government’s two barges which are currently used to service commercial routes and not really servicing the islands and the province’s coastline.

Relatives and critics in Kavieng are now asking why the chairman of the Tanir local level government did not see fit to arrange for one of the barges to transport students from the island to the mainland for schooling.

The disaster Those students who were able to afford to travel by aircraft from Tanga and Anir to Namatanai were lucky. Those who had to travel on the MV Feni to get back to their schools on time had no choice.

The wind between Tanga and Namatanai was moderate, between 5-10 knots, as the MV Feni negotiated the Bismark Archipelago toward Namatanai.

An hour or two before it could reach Namatanai, a strong northerly wind erupted tossing the small ferry around like a cork in the sea.

The so-called captain, who had no certificate to pilot the boat, called on the passengers to balance both sides of the boat, but the ferocity of the waves that hammered down on the children on the side facing the onslaught was too strong.

Trying to get away from the huge waves, the children rushed to the opposite side of the boat, destabilizing it.

The boat dipped into the sea taking in water.

Some of the passengers jumped into the sea once the boat started taking in water. The ferry rocked back and forth collecting more water, and then its hull shattered from the bow to the stern (front of the ship to the back).

It went down so fast that some of the sleeping passengers, whose bodies were recently retrieved by search and rescue divers, never had the chance to scream for help.

A lot of questions are being raised in relation to how this disaster could have been averted, and in Kavieng many are of the opinion that many people, including the New Ireland provincial government, leaders and other authorities are part and parcel of this negligence.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).



NAMATANAI, Papua New Guinea (February 15, 2000 – The National)---Investigations are being conducted by key agencies into the maritime accident on January 30 off the coast of Namatanai, New Ireland province, which claimed 13 lives.

National Emergency Services chief Ludwick Kembu said in Port Moresby yesterday that the Department of Transport and police are looking into the incident.

"It's a routine thing for the key agencies. Reports will be submitted to the relevant authorities for their attention and, if need be, action," he said.

The coastal vessel MV Feni, with more than 200 people, mostly school children on board, sank amid rough seas en route to the mainland from the outlying Tanga, Anir and Lihir islands.

According to transport officers at the headquarters, initial reports suggest the boat may have been overloaded with passengers.

Rumors are also rife that the vessel lacked a qualified captain and that youths aboard the vessel at the time were attempting their skills at the helm when they ran into trouble.

The rumor could not be independently verified with the authorities in New Ireland, but one officer has confirmed that this is among matters being investigated and until such time as a formal report is compiled, what has been said are just rumors.

But authorities say that initial reports suggest overcrowding; if not a total ignorance of maritime safety measures.

The national coordinator of the Maritime Search and Rescue Center, Eka Elori, said the MV Feni had a survey certificate to carry 20 passengers and a maximum of one ton of cargo, but at the time of its demise, it was carrying more than 230 passengers.

"It is clear that the MV Feni had not adhered to strict maritime regulations," he said.

Twelve people are confirmed dead in the accident while a three-year-old child is still missing and believed dead.

Eight of the bodies were plucked from the sunken ship by divers several days after the incident.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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