By CLIFFORD FAIPARIK
THE idyllic waters of Milne Bay’s vast maritime district of Murua with far flung tropical islands are a pot of gold.
These rocky islands scattered in the South Seas in Milne Bay with wide sandy beaches, blue lagoons and swaying coconut palms are inhabited by the friendly and resilient people.
The islands are so scattered and remote that communications and transportation are very hard. The biggest and the parent islands are the Sudest, Woodlark and Misima which boast of hosting Papua New Guinea’s first gold mining projects since the 1800s. Gold was mined there much earlier than the much talked about Eddie Creek in Wau-Bulolo in Morobe.
Europeans came and mined gold on Sudest, Woodlark and Misima. Mining in Misima later developed into a full scale operation in 1988 which was closed in 2002. Now only locals are engaged in alluvial mining.
Gold was also discovered on Woodlark in the late 1800s but unlike Misima mining there never became a full scale operation. Only alluvial mining is still ongoing. But there are explorations going on for a full scale operation. There is also alluvial mining on Sudest.
There are smaller islands that make up the groups of islands around Woodlark in the Woodlark archipelago and Misima in the Louisiade archipelago.
People on these smaller islands sometimes face shortages of food and water and they paddle and sail on their traditional sailing canoes for a whole day to the main islands of Woodlark and Misima to find food like sago, and water. They also lack government services and so they struggle to visit the main islands to access things like health and education.
Their only economic activity is fishing which includes the harvesting of bech de mer and shark fins. But these islands are potential tourism spots, and the Misima Guest House is keeping them all in the loop to tap into tourisms activities.
Manager Mickey Sailasa says that the guest house is owned by the Louisiade Women’s Association and they have been operating since the 1970s.
“We are truly into ecotourism. We have kayaking and a yacht rally that takes place in September annually. Tourists mostly come through Cairns in Australia and they come and visit our pristine islands in the Louisiade Local Level Government. During their visits they donate clothes and buy artifacts from our Islanders. They also like our local food provided by the islanders.
“Also tourists come for bird watching and cave exploration on Misima and our smaller islands in the Calvados chain. Tourists always come and they enjoy their time here and at the same time the locals benefit from them through cash and kind and we get bookings around May.
“But now with Covid-19, international tourists have not come this year. And we hope the National Covid-19 Operation Centre establishes win-win measures to quarantine so that they can come and contribute in the local economy. But we are lucky because we have local visitors coming here and are helping to generate the local economy in the midst of a gloomy economic situation affected by Covid-19.
“We are having an increase in local visitors to our guest house since May and are happy for them to still have confidence in coming here. Unfortunately it’s not the case with our international visitors. This time in previous years, we have international tourists coming here for the yacht rally and kayaking.”
Sailasa said that in the meantime, they had local visitors like officers from the provincial administration – medical staff, agriculture, fisheries as well as police officers – who went there to carry out their official duties.
“We also have officials from companies like PNG Air, Kokonas Indastri Koporesen (KIK) and British American Tobacco (BAT) visiting us. These local visitors are keeping the islands’ economy going in terms of tourism activities.”
But the biggest untapped gold mine is the natural Jomard passage which does not need infrastructure development. Samarai-Murua MP Isi Henry Leonard says that this passage can truly catapult PNG into a developed nation.
“PNG stands to generate over K1 billion annually from pilotage fees alone from international ships passing through the Jomard passage in Milne Bay,
“This is free money generated into the national economy. Almost no money will be spent to build complicated infrastructures like the Suez Canal in the Middle East and Panama Cannel in Central America. Jomard passage is just a natural passage of about three nautical miles wide.
“The passage is in the international shipping route for Australia, Southern Pacific and northward to Asia. “And I would like to thank the Marape-Steven Government for declaring Jomard a mandatory pilotage passage. This is a milestone for my electorate, Milne Bay and the country as a whole to embrace economic opportunities through the provision of pilotage services and other economic spinoffs generated from the passage.
“About 45 ships like super fuel tankers, bulk carriers, container ships and other ocean going ships that ply the international trade pass through that passage in the Louisiade Local Level Government daily in my electorate to travel to and from Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and other developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region. These ships will now pay pilotage fees to use the passage.”
Leonard has allocated K300,000 from his District Development Authority funds to the Jomard Passage technical team to work on the mandatory pilotage programme. The team will be tasked to set up a pilotage company to employ locals to pilot ships through this passage. Locals will also be employed as rangers to ensure that the passing ship do not damage the natural environment of the passage.
Leonard says “This passage has been ignored for far too long and now the Marape-Steven Government has realised its huge economic potential and has tabled the National Ocean Policy 2020-2030 and the Maritime Zone Act.
“These achievements are a culmination of the tireless efforts of the National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA) to establish a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSSA) in 2016 through submission to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). And I thank all the parties involved from the national, provincial and district level to make this programme possible for the locals.”
By CLIFFORD FAIPARIK