By MIRIAM ZARRIGA and PETER ESILA
THE Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government is scrambling to determine how Garuda Indonesia Flight GA-7610 that stopped over at about 6pm at Jackson International Airport on Thursday ferried more than the number of approved passengers from India, a country ravaged by the highly infectious Coronavirus (Covid-19) Delta variant.
Transport Minister William Samb told The National yesterday that the Garuda jet arrived from India via Indonesia (Jakarta) had more passengers than the number that was advised by his department.
“The PNG Covid-19 National Pandemic Response Controller David Manning had approved only 42 passengers.”
“However, as the flight was in the air after taking off from India, we were told there were more than 70 passengers on board.
“They were in the air from India when we were informed of the passenger manifest. We were working around the clock to ensure that when they got to Indonesia, they would deal with the numbers.”
Samb said the jet originated from India to Jakarta and then to Port Moresby and based on PNG’s Covid-19 quarantine capability, “we advised the National Control Centre (NCC) to allow only 42 passengers embark Port Moresby.
“However, there was an increased number of passengers, from 42 to more than 70. With the increase in passengers, as soon as the flight landed in Jakarta, all passengers had to go through Covid-19 test requirements,” he said.
“So we were advised on the increased number of passengers and there were discussions with Foreign Affairs and it was decided to cater for the increase because that number included Papua New Guineans, India High Commission in PNG staff and Indian expatriates working in PNG.
“We worked round the clock to facilitate the extra passengers wanting to disembark. We carried out the usual checks to accommodate them. The rest of the passengers were allowed to continue with their journey to Fiji.”
Samb said his department was told that 70 plus passengers disembarked at Jackson International Airport. In light of what happened, Samb said strong measures must be in place to not allow such an incident to recur.
“We must make sure that originating destinations are in compliance with the country’s quarantine and Covid-19 conditions,” he said.
Meanwhile, National Airports Corporation (NAC) acting managing director and chief executive officer Rex Kiponge said NAC’s role was only to facilitate regular public transport (RPT) flights.
“We do not make decisions to bring in aircraft, we only facilitate. RPT flights are scheduled (commercial) flights like Air Niugini, PNG Air and international flights. The non-RPT are unscheduled flights, so they get approval from the Transport Department. And now, due to Covid-19, approvals also come from the controller as well,” he said.
Kiponge said all international passengers who disembarked in Port Moresby were subjected to the Trakpro team for inbound testing and must undergo the mandatory 21-day quarantine period in designated hotels.
According to the National Control Centre approval document, the controller had on Aug 18 approved the Indonesian Embassy in PNG’s July 28 application for a diplomatic approval of the Garuda aircraft for landing as part of an international repatriation flight, both inbound and outbound operations in PNG air space.
The approval stated that the passengers comprised Indian nationals, Indonesians, Papua New Guineans and Fijians.
At press time, The National was still unable to reach controller and Police Comm Manning to clarify whether the ban on flights originating from India had been lifted.
The ban was announced in April after the Delta variant pandemic broke out in India, which is still battling to contain the disease.