The call was made as the Government has launched two separate investigations into the recent sea accident involving the MV Taimareho which has resulted in 27 passengers washed overboard when the vessel encountered rough seas triggered by cyclone Harold Thursday last week.
Bodies of seven of the missing passengers have been recovered during the week while a search mission for the remaining 20 bodies are ongoing.
A statement from the Office of the Prime Minister today said the first investigation comprises a two-part investigation by the Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration (SIMSA).
The first part has already commenced – the preliminary investigation into the tragic incident in which the 27 passengers were washed overboard from MV Taimareho on the night of 2 April 2020. A Marine Investigation Officer has been appointed by the Director of SIMSA in accordance with the Shipping Act 1998, and Shipping (Marine Inquiries and Investigations) Regulations 2011.
The second part involves the Commissioning of a ‘Board of Marine Inquiry’ by the Minister under the Act to conduct a formal inquiry into the incident. The Board of Marine Inquiry will commence its work following the appointment by the Minister of its Chairperson and two members.
The second investigation is a criminal investigation commissioned by the Commissioner of Police as a result of suspicious deaths. This will involve interviews of passengers, crews, shipping company and other persons or bodies of interest to establish facts resulting in suspicious deaths.
These investigations will look at the legality of certain actions or decisions taken or not taken leading to the ship departing Honiara on the night of 2nd April including the incident and post-incident activities. The findings and recommendations of these investigations will be presented to the relevant authorities.
These two investigations will provide adequate assurance into the cause of the incident. The government does not intend to do a Commission of Inquiry simply because a proper mechanism to investigate maritime accidents already exist in law, is already executed and will accomplish a comprehensive assessment that will be completed within a much shorter timeframe. Together with the Police investigations, the outcomes of these investigations could result in charges being laid.
By contrast, and based on previous Commissions of Inquiries, a Commission of Inquiry is a very lengthy and costly process that could take a few years to complete which will not enable families affected by this tragedy to have closure for a long time.
As the two levels of inquiries proceed, the government is very aware that 27 of our citizens may have all lost their lives in this tragic incident and their families and relatives are suffering.
“Ship operators and captains must not break the Maritime Laws of the country when implementing government policy. These laws govern how ships operate for the safety and security of passengers. They cannot break the law to implement government policy,” the OPMC Statement said.
The government is aware and appreciative that shipping operators are responding positively to implementing the government policy decision to assist our people to relocate to their home provinces as a result of our COVID-19 measures.
A lot of commentaries have been carried by the papers and social media platforms regarding the search and rescue operations following the tragedy.
Meanwhile, the government has set up a humanitarian committee coordinated by the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet with representatives from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, the Ministry of Traditional Governance, Peace and Ecclesiastical Affairs and representatives of families and relatives that have lost loved ones.
This Committee is tasked to consider what and how best the Government can support families of the missing passenger as a nation, as a people, and as a government.
“There will be ways through which we can all contribute to ease the suffering of our fellow citizens whose loved ones had been taken away from them. We ask you all to listen out and to contribute what you can to what our committee comes up with to support our families most affected by this tragic tragedy,” the OPMC Statement said.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Monday has personally met with the MP for West Are’are, Hon. John Maneniaru and family representatives of the missing person to express his profound condolences and sympathy to those affected by this tragedy.