Ten Australian Pacific Dawn passengers, injured in a fatal, head-on crash in Vanuatu between a tour coach and a local bus, were receiving hospital treatment in Noumea and Brisbane last night.
The most badly hurt were flown to Brisbane for medical treatment, including an 11-year-old boy with serious injuries.
The two fatalities in the crash were both NiVan people (Vanuatu nationals) and were in the local bus. Radio New Zealand reported that police have charged the driver of the tour bus with reckless driving causing death after he allegedly crossed the centre line and collided with the local bus.
The driver of the local bus, carrying local NiVan passengers, was killed as was one of his passengers – a woman who was eight months pregnant.
Those injured in the tour bus covered a span of ages, including children and elderly.
Keeping people informed is a vital aspect of handling such a sudden and dreadful event, and P&O was drawing praise for that last night. The cruise line placed regular reports and updates on its Facebook page and explained that it had contacted relatives of all those who had been hurt.
Chief executive of Carnival Australia, Ann Sherry, explained the situation well in a video on Facebook.
“As you all know, there was a terrible accent in Port Vila yesterday between a tour bus and a local bus,” Sherry began. “The accident resulted in the deaths of two NiVan people who were on the local bus, which is an absolute tragedy.”
P&O was doing everything it could to support their families, she added.
“On the tour bus there were 12 passengers from Pacific Dawn and of those 12, 10 sustained injuries consistent with a traffic accident,” Sherry said.
“The most seriously injured were evacuated to Noumea hospital last night. We’ve been very focussed over the past 24 hours making sure that everyone who was injured had the right level of care and had access to the right level of treatment.” Some had gone to Noumea, she said.
“The most seriously injured of those was a young boy who is showing much more positive signs today which we are very thankful for. The other passengers have all been either airlifted out, are on route to Brisbane, or are waiting for the last couple of planes to take them to Brisbane. They all have fractures and other injuries we have been able to stabilise.”
Sherry went on to thank the team at the Port Vila hospital, the team on the ship and Australian consular officials.
Carnival had dispatched a team to “wrap our arms around everyone”, Sherry said. The team was headed by P&O Cruises president Sture Myrmell and would visit Noumea, Port Villa and Brisbane.
“For the past 24 hours our focus has been on our passengers but we are now about to turn and undertake a full review,” Sherry said.
The P&O effort to tell everyone what was hapening drew praise on Facebook – although a few former passengers expressed concerns about the standard of roads and driving in Vanuatu.
“What a great company P&O are, in the midst of a tragedy they are pulling out all the stops and genuinely are concerned about everyone involved as well as keeping us all updated well done P&O,” wrote LesleyRoy Mann.
Others responded in similar vein: “Thank you for keeping the public up to date and we wish all a speedy recovery and condolences to those that lost family member.”
Others had different concerns.
“This does not surprise me,” wrote Lisa Gore. “Some of those drivers are crazy. My fingernails were digging into the seats last time we were there!!!!”
“I have to say I wasn’t terribly comfortable with the scary driving in Vila and our driver only a week or so ago told us there are hardly any accidents!,” Lisa McTye commented.
“Can’t believe it doesn’t happen every week,” Mark Buckingham added. “Roads and drivers and cars on that island a joke. But hey doesn’t stop me from going again.”
Vanuatu Independent editor Tony Wilson said serious crashes were rare in Vanuatu. He told ABC News travellers were normally “pretty safe on the roads because a lot of the road systems are of such poor quality that you just can’t speed”.
P&O said it made every effort to ensure the tour operators it used were the best and safest available, consistent with its own high standards of safety and security.
Meanwhile, Pacific Dawn was cleared to depart Port Vila and proceeded to visit the Isle of Pines, from where it will return to Brisbane as scheduled.
Written by Peter Needham