Rabaul Shipping Owner Discusses PNG Sinking Inquiry

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Peter Sharp says commission acted as ‘an inquisition’

By David Lornie

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 28, 2013) – Peter Sharp, the owner of the MV Rabaul Queen, which sank in rough waters off the Morobe coast last February in Papua New Guinea, has broken his year-long public silence to speak exclusively to the Post-Courier.

Over the past year, Captain Sharp has been the target of intense public hatred, with calls for his arrest and worse.

After releasing an initial statement to the public, Sharp avoided talking to the media.

Slammed for not being more accessible after the disaster, Sharp now explains his public silence.

"I made the initial (public) statement at the insistence of my family members and because I thought it’s necessary. After that, anything I said would have been twisted and used to sell papers, not telling the truth."

Captain Sharp attacked the Commission of Inquiry into the Sinking of the MV Rabaul Queen, which was highly critical of him, labeling it "an inquisition."

"It is said that before every Commission starts the judge, and the counsel assisting have the report already done," he stated. "The Commission just fills in the gaps. The Commission was an inquisition, not a Commission. The verdict for the Rabaul Queen was done before the first question was asked. Then something went terribly wrong. The facts did not fit the final report so much more effort had to be put into manipulating what was said to fit the end report."

Sharp said that witnesses at the Inquiry were so reluctant to give evidence that the Commission had to pay them to appear.

"Where else would you get away with bribing each witness K3,000 [US$1,417] to give their story?" Sharp asked. "Politicians in Australia are hauled over the coals if they spend AU$200 [US$204] on a taxi or AU$300 [US$306] on a prostitute. Yet the Commission is allowed to pay people nearly half a year’s earnings to give a story."

Captain Sharp said the sinking of the Rabaul Queen was a huge blow to him.

"She was a beautiful ship," he said, "and she should not have gone."

He said, regardless of what some people may think about him, he wasn’t stupid enough to want to sink the pride of his fleet, particularly laden with passengers.

"Ships are our life," he said, "and carrying passengers is our life."

Despite the findings of the Inquiry, Captain Sharp maintained that "the Rabaul Queen was the finest ferry to ever operate in PNG...she exceeded the requirements of the Australian USL (Uniform Shipping Laws) code."

Sharp referred to a statement tendered to the Inquiry by an Australian Naval Architect who confirmed that "the Rabaul Queen was more than acceptable to operate in Australian waters."

"This didn’t get much prominence at the Inquiry," Captain Sharp told the Post-Courier.

The Inquiry inferred that the ferry had been poorly maintained, a suggestion that Sharp strongly refuted.

"The Rabaul Queen was our flag ship," he said, "and no expense was ever spared on her maintenance."

When asked why the ferry sank, Captain Sharp pointed to a rogue wave pattern, Bobongara, known to occur in the Finschaffen area.

"The ship was sunk by three large waves," said Sharp. "The Simbang was sunk in 1991 in the same area by three large waves. Two weeks after the Rabaul Queen sinking, Consort (Shipping) nearly lost a large container ship in the same area. She was saved by running her aground at Tami Islands.

"Just three weeks ago," Captain Sharp added, "one of our ships ran into the same Bobongara."

The Commission of Inquiry found that gale-force conditions were a contributing factor to the ferry’s sinking, saying the Rabaul Queen should not have been sailing in such conditions.

Captain Sharp denied receiving a severe weather warning and though he admitted "the weather was rough," he maintained it was "not at the stage it was dangerous."

He added: "My captains know not to push the ship and waste fuel fighting large seas."

Captain Sharp faces Civil and possible Criminal action as a result of the MV Rabaul Queen’s sinking.

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