MV Rabaul Queen trial continues

The trial for Captain Peter Robert Sharp continued today after being adjourned because State Counsel Paul Tusais failed to return to court yesterday afternoon.

Through his assisting counsel, the National Court in Kokopo held by Justice Terrence Higgins was advised that lead State Counsel Tusais was “sick” and unable to continue the long-awaited trial.

State Counsel Tusais was visibly upset over the turn of events which occurred during the beginning of the trial where Justice Higgins went ahead to amend the indictment. The charge was prepared by public prosecution against Captain Peter Robert Sharp and the MV Rabaul Queen Captain Anthony Matasir Tsiau, against opposition from the State prosecution team.

Although both Sharp and Tsiau now face charges of unlawfully killing passengers on board the ship (manslaughter) and allowing an unworthy ship out to sea, the court has deemed fit to amend the number of people who perished from 172 to 88.

The amendment occurred as the trial opened with Sharp, Tsaiu, the ship's first mate Michael Zirau and the manageress of Star Shipping Limited West New Britain branch Grace Amen all appeared to enter their plea.

Zirau immediately left the stand as State prosecution told the court that they were unable at this stage to find enough evidence to pin him to both charges. He however, will be called in to answer if there is sufficient evidence to call him to trial.

Amen is being charged with only allowing an unworthy ship to sail, but is expected to have her case heard separately.

Sharp and Tsiau have heard the first witness Max Maliot tell the court that both his sons were on board the MV Rabaul Queen but so far, their defense counsel Simon Nutley of Fiocco & Nutley Lawyers has been able to object that any phone conversation between Maliot and his late sons Adrian and Alfred, and in regard to the condition of the ship being over packed and the weather being rough, is hearsay evidence.

Although the State has indicated using survivors and witnesses of people who perished in this maritime accident, the use of Maliot during the opening of the trial has so far not produced a satisfactory outcome for the prosecution team.

Other potential State witnesses were held back from entering the court room yesterday with police manning the way to court room 2 where the trial was taking place.

It is expected that today, Justice Higgins will have an indication of whether the trial goes ahead and if so, how it would proceed.

Meanwhile, defense counsel Nutley is still adamant that the number of people who perished according to the official manifest is 88 and not 172, and has won a small victory so far by getting the National Court to endorse that view, despite strong opposition by the State. 

Pictures by Joshua Arlo

Captions1&2: Peter Sharp and Anthony Tsiau leaving the court room after the matter was adjourned yesterday.

3. Defense Counsel Simon Nutley after the trial was adjourned.

Joshua Arlo