PFD Use a Key Factor in PNG Ferry Disaster Survival

The wearing of PFDs is alleged to have played a pivotal role in the survival of 238 people, victims of the recent ferry disaster in Paua New Guinea.

The ferry, which sunk early on Thursday morning, has left more than 100 people missing and rescue efforts are continuing in the hope of finding the missing passengers.

The MV Rabaul Queen sank in rough seas as it made its way from Kimbe in New Britain to the town of Lae on PNG’s north coast – the same route it has travelled on a weekly basis for 11 years. It is understood that the majority of passengers were students returning to the university in Lae.

The vessel apparently sank quickly with no mayday message sent. While it is currently unclear why the vessel, which underwent a dry dock service last year, sank, it is understood that shipping agencies had been warned of rough weather this week and were advised to keep their vessels moored.

Five vessels in the area gave assistance to the survivors and the Australian government has responded with three ships, two helicopters and two planes that are continuing the search for survivors. The Australian Defence Force is helping coordinate rescue efforts.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill admitted that safety within the PNG shipping industry was lax. “We need to bring some safety measures back into this industry,” he said. Despite being in regular radio contact with another vessel shortly before it sank, there was apparently no signs of distress. Concern was raised when the MV Rabaul Queen failed to appear on satellite tracking systems.

As with many low and middle income countries, the sea is a major form of transportation in PNG. All but a few of the 238 survivors wearing Personal Flotation Devices (PFD’s), a point highlighted by ILS Education Committee Chair, Richard Tan’s presentation at the ILS World Conference on Drowning Prevention (WCDP) in 2011  who stated that ‘the odds of survival being greatly increased by the wearing of a personal floatation device (PFD)’.

Further research supporting PFD’s and other measures to prevent drowning in water transportation incidents and disaster were discussed by ILS representatives during a high level session on PFD’s at WCDP. Presenters including Dr Linda Quan, Dr Peter Cummings and Dr Beth Mueller, revealed there was a need for case study analysis into the association between PFD use and survival.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced that there will be an investigation into the incident, the findings of which would prove useful to continuing ILS research into this association.  ILS continues its research into the use of PFDs and safety regulations of all passenger vessels, especially those within low and middle income countries.