The National, Monday 26th March 2012
PNG Ports has threatened to close the port of Buka to all shipping vessels following the burning of three ships belonging to Star Shipping.
Militant elements sympathetic to relatives of Bougainvilleans who perished in the sinking of mv Rabaul Queen off the Finschhafen coast, Morobe, on February 2, severed the moorings of the mv Solomon Queen, the Kopra 3 and Kopra 4 on the evening of March 16 and set all three on fire. The hulled out boats now rest in a mangrove a few kilometres off Buka Island under constant armed guard by the militant elements.
Acting chief executive officer of PNG Ports Corporation, Stanley Alphonse wrote to commissioner and chief executive officer, Dr Billy Manoka, on March 20 outlining the potential closure of the port of Buka should there be any escalation in tension associated with the burning of the ships.
“An important consideration for the continued operation of our ports are the safety and security of not only our own staff but all our stakeholders who do business within the port and particularly consideration in light of the recent turn of events with the burning of the Rabaul Shipping vessels have been received with serious concerns over the continued operation of our port of Buka.”
The militant elements and families of disaster victims met on March 20 and resolved to tow out the three boats and sell them off to the flourishing scrap metal business in the autonomous region and retain the proceeds as partial compensation for lives lost.
Whether this resolution is viewed as an “escalation in tension” by PNG Ports remains to be determined. But the same meeting of relatives has given assurances to all other shippers that their anger is directed at Star Shipping (Rabaul Shipping and owner Peter Sharp) and that other shipping lines can carry on business in ports of Bougainville.
If the PNG Port threat is carried out it will severely affect the people and economy of Buka and the rest of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville as shipping is its life line. Buka is the seat of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
President of ABG, John Momis has unequivocally condemned the burning of the ships and announced the setting up of a task force to bring the militant elements to justice.
“One wrong does not justify another,” Momis said, voicing his own displeasure at the circumstances leading to the ferry disaster.
“Commercial shipping may very well be curtailed for a period of time,” he said.
This will create some temporary hardships to the travel of Bougainvilleans.
Buka port is not closed and is open to regular shipping movement.