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Operators take huge risks in bad weather

By Patrick Levo PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Aug. 19, 2011) – The missing boat carrying five research scientists in Kimbe waters was owned by a provincial health worker.

The owner was the logistics officer in charge of organising the travel and equipment for the missing officers.

Provincial Disaster Officer Leo Mapmani confirmed that the privately owned 23-foot boat with 60 horsepower engine had no life rafts when it was hired out to the scientists from the Institute of Medical Research, Goroka.

New information has also emerged that the operator of the boat took a longer route in bad weather.

Mr Mapmani said while the search was still continuing, it was being scaled back to the coastline between Garu and Milimata.

He also maintained the departure of the boat from Milimata was on August 1 between 6-7am as confirmed by the sister in charge of the health centre there.

He said the SIC told his search team that the weather that morning was bad.

This is despite a reported call from one of the missing scientist Tania Oakiva to her sister Maso Raka on the afternoon of August 2 requesting mobile phone credits.

The scientific team was conducting malaria research under funding from Global International when they went missing.

Mr Mapmani said that weather conditions along the New Britain coastline had been poor this month and the disaster office regularly sends out warnings to small crafts by radio.

However, he said many boat operators tend to ignore these warnings and take a huge risk operating out on the open ocean in poor conditions.

The medical team was headed for Bali Island offshore when they went missing, the second boat to go missing along that coastline in three weeks.

Last month, two banana boats travelling from Ulamona to East New Britain also went missing but were later found safe in New Ireland waters.

Another boat carrying eight people from Kandrian across to Siassi Island also went missing and has not been found.

PNGIMR deputy director corporate affairs Sam Akunai said yesterday that any credible information on the missing boat is being investigated by Police and disaster officials.

Relatives of the missing scientists are now asking why the PNGIMR did not hire a chopper to ferry its team when it knew the weather was bad.

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