Customs too demanding on oil tanker, says owner

National, Normal

The National- Wednesday, January 19, 2011

 THE oil tanker, UBT Fjord, which departed PNG waters on the night of Jan 7, after seven months at anchor in Rabaul left because of prolonged delays and unlawful demands from PNG Customs, a spokesman for the ship owner said in Singapore.

The Singapore-flagged vessel was stopped by Customs last June after taking on board a cargo of fuel oil, worth K14.5 million, at Loloho, in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

The spokesperson said in a statement that after allowing the tanker to load the cargo at Loloho, with the help of locals, and giving it clearance to depart for Singapore, PNG Customs then stopped the ship and redirected it to Rabaul.

Its owners said that unfortunately, PNG Customs took the opportunity to make all sorts of demands and bring various proceedings.

They said that contrary to what Commissioner-general of Customs Gary Juffa may claim, UBT Fjord was not under arrest or detention.

A temporary detention order had been lifted and Juffa’s application for a further restraining order was refused by the National Court, once again, with an order that he pays the court costs, the spokesman added.

Contrary to Juffa’s statements, the captain of the vessel, Ye Wi Aung, was not facing any charges, had not been arrested and was not on bail.

The spokesperson said there should be a complete investigation of PNG Customs, from the top down.

“We have learned of other incidences and, as matters stand, the way Customs is being administered, foreign shipping have a strong incentive to avoid PNG altogether. PNG Customs appear to be a law unto themselves.”

In the meantime, the owners and charterers of the UBT Fjord have issued their own proceedings in the National Court, including a multi-million US dollar claim against Juffa and the state.

The claim is for loss of profits and extra expenses incurred while the vessel had been in Rabaul for the seven months.

These proceedings will be pursued to the end, the spokesman said. 

“We are determined to recover compensation for these losses through maladministration and unlawful demands.

“The cost to the ship owner and the waste of these losses through maladministration and the waste of public monies had been had been quiet astounding,” he said.

“We are determined to recover compensation for the losses,” the spokesman said.

East New Britain police had arrested three people over the UBT Fjord “escape” – two officers from the shipping agent Inchcape Shipping Service and a woman Customs officer. 

The former two of those arrested had been charged with stealing while the Customs officer was charged with aiding in the crime.