THE accident involving mv Lihir Express off the Salamaua coast cannot be ignored by the Government – least of all by the Minister for Transport – who is the Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare himself.
This accident as well as the capsizing of the cargo barge the San Pedro and the sinking of the mv Sealark or any other sea accidents must be investigated by a legally-constituted marine inquiry to ensure that all the facts about the three accidents are made publicly known in the interests of PNG’s shipping industry.
The international credibility and standing of the PNG maritime industry depend on the way this nation upholds and enforces the International Maritime Safety Code and other relevant laws pertaining to shipping safety, management and operations of the vessels that operate in PNG waters.
It is most disturbing that since the accident involving the mv Lihir Express, the Prime Minister has said nothing about the accident and what he as the minister responsible for the nation’s maritime industry is doing about this accident.
The accident must be investigated by an independent inquiry so that all the relevant facts about it are made known.
Many companies in Lae lost thousands of kina worth of cargo when containers from Lihir Express either fell or were forced off. It is not a small matter to be ignored by the minister responsible for the maritime industry of this nation.
The San Pedro also carried cargo that was lost at sea when it capsized. The same story goes for the Sealark.
Investigations by the National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA) into these shipping mishaps have not been made public. Why not?
PNG trains its seafarers at the premier maritime training college at Madang. If graduates from that college are sailing on ships that sink, then what is its credibility and the integrity of its curriculum?
What is the credibility and integrity of its instructors and management?
These are questions that a marine inquiry must assess and determine.
The inquiry into the capsizing of the San Pedro raises serious questions and issues about the qualifications of some of the crew members. Where were those people trained?
It also raises questions about management.
The role of the National Maritime Safety Authority and its supposed independence to carry out its duties must also come under the radar screen of the marine inquiry.
It is the duty and responsibility of the Government and its agencies responsible for the safe operation of the nation’s maritime industry to ensure that the industry operates strictly in accordance with the highest international standards.
The Government must ensure that no questions are ever raised internationally about the safety standards and management of the PNG shipping industry.
Any questions raised will cast serious and damaging doubts on the industry and could seriously undermine PNG’s standing at international level.
The shipping industry in PNG has an impeccable record of safety and good management.
However, unless accidents like the ones we have highlighted are promptly and thoroughly investigated by qualified, independent authorities, doubts will emerge internationally.
PNG’s shipping industry is a multi-billion kina industry that serves this nation. It must never be compromised in any way whatsoever and the Government is duty-bound to protect it.
The Maritime Safety Act clearly outlines how the industry is to be regulated. The authority responsible for enforcing this Act is the NMSA. For it to be able to do its job effectively, it must be seen to be independent of all forms of influence from anywhere, either within or without.
We call on the Prime Minister as the Minister for Transport to come out and tell the nation, and in particular the shipping industry, what he is doing about this matter.
The sinking of a vessel or the loss of cargo on another vessel are matters of such gravity that cannot be simply ignored by the Government.
These are matters of great concern to both the industry and the nation as a whole.
Unless action is taken immediately to assure the international merchant shipping industry about the safety and good management of the PNG shipping industry, our national credibility and integrity will be called into question. That will be a very sad day for PNG.