THE illegal export of Papua New Guinea’s most famous war relic, the “Swamp Ghost” B-17 airplane wreck, could take place this month.
PNG’s well-preserved war wrecks attract tourists from all over the world, injecting money into local economies.
The illegal removal of 89 aircraft wrecks during the past decade has yielded little benefit to the nation and its people.
PNG’s best wreck, the Swamp Ghost, landed intact in the Agiambo swamp in Oro province on Feb 23, 1942.
The bomber is internationally recognised as a symbol of World War II in PNG.
Controversy erupted in 2006 when American businessman Alfred “Fred” Hagen salvaged the wreck, chopped it into pieces and transported it to Bismarck Shipping at Lae to await export.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigation produced a report entitled, “Sale and Export of the Swamp Ghost Aircraft and War Surplus Materials.”
Witnesses provided incriminating evidence about Swamp Ghost and other illegal exports of aircraft and parts from PNG to wealthy collectors.
The Office of the State Solicitor stated the museum “had no power to sell State property at all or only in accordance with the Public Finances (Management) Act.”
Eastern Highlands Governor Malcolm Kela-Smith commented, “Swamp Ghost is part of PNG culture and should not have been sold.”
The PAC report determined Swamp Ghost’s salvage to be illegal.
Mr Hagen returns this month to PNG to take Swamp Ghost to the United States in defiance of the PAC report.
It concludes “Under no circumstances should the State through any of its agencies, arms or Departments again deal with Robert Greinert, Fred Hagen, HARS, Aero Archaeology LLC…in the sale, removal, export or on-sale of War Surplus Materials.”
Hagen has offered K300,000 plus a museum facility in exchange for Swamp Ghost. Other experts estimate the wreck’s value at several million kina.
The people of PNG lose when war relics are removed in an undercompensated fashion, says Justin Taylan, director of Pacific Wrecks, a non-profit organisation dedicated to sharing information about WWII wrecks.
It is up to PNG to enforce its own laws, protecting these artifacts or at least sell them at their market value.
Albert H. Cross,