Monuments of Rage

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The Buka Passage is a narrow, deep and very fast flowing tidal channel that separates Buka Island by around 200 meters  from the main island of Bougainville.  Our home island for the week, the small but scenic Sohano island (far left with the silhouetted trees)  sits at the entrance of the Buka Passage and has a stunning view of the sunset over the channel (see Scenic Sohano).   For several days, I tried to be home on the island by sunset to photograph it but was not very successful.  Our adventures outside of Sohano were equally exciting and often kept us from getting home before sundown.  But there’s something else out there in the horizon, among the small islands, that deeply intrigued me and and caused the shutterbug in me to feel an intense restlessness and desire to capture its photos.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

They are actually visible to the naked eye on a clear day: three boats (2 in this photo) that look casually moored by an islet among the reefs.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

At a certain angle, even at a closer look; the boats can appear like normal seafaring vessels peacefully anchored on the calm waters of the channel.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

But a more careful examination would show that something is wrong….

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

The vessels are totally deserted, one is almost totally burned, and it is obvious that they are not about to set sail soon.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Not far from the two boats is another one which looked like it’s about to sink.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Locals paddle their canoes and cruise in their dinghies near these vessels as if they’re not there when, in fact, the vessels serve as grim reminders of a recent tragedy.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

On February 2, 2012; the MV Rabaul Queen sank in heavy seas off Finschhafen near mainland PNG, claiming more than 200 lives, many of them students or children from Bougainville. These 3 deserted vessels on Buka Passage are owned by Rabaul Shipping, the same company which owned the ill-fated MV Rabaul Queen.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

According to local accounts, the relatives of the victims waited for more than a month to be compensated for their loss but they have not heard from Rabaul Shipping since the tragedy. Tired of waiting and unable to contain their rage, the victims’ relatives, reportedly joined by armed former combatants, stormed the company’s dock near this site in Buka. The angry crowd towed the 3 boats through the Buka Passage, grounded them on the reefs and set them on fire.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

There were no casualties on the burning of these vessels and it is unclear what eventually happened to the case. But there they are: ghost ships enchantingly playing silhouettes against the sunset, monuments of rage floating aimlessly on the crystal clear but mysterious waters of Bougainville.

Author’s Note:  There are not many reports regarding the MV Rabaul Queen, the case against Rabaul Shipping, or the burning of its three vessels. Below are some related stories I found on the net.   A Blessed and Happy Easter to those who are observing the Holy Week.

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