Preparations begin

Main Stories, National

The National, Tuesday July 30th, 2013

 AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s asylum-seeker deal brought a massive Antonov air freighter to Port Moresby’s Jackson international airport on Sunday; its cargo was being unloaded and put on to RAAF Hercules to be flown to the remote island.

The airstrip on Manus, built by the US military during World War II, is paved and substantial enough to take a Hercules but not the larger Antonov aircraft.

Another Antonov was due to arrive overnight, loaded with about 10 shipping containers of further equipment for the Manus asylum-seeker centre.

Ernie Lohberger, who came from Tasmania to set up a water engineering business in PNG in 1960, said yesterday that he had been contacted by Toll Remote Logistics, the Australian company involved in the expansion, last Thursday, asking him to have a desalination plant and chlorinated water tanks installed there within four days.

He had already delivered it to the airport for shipment in the Hercules.

The plant will provide enough water for about 600 people – but much greater capacity would be needed if the population expands to the anticipated 3000.

“We’re anticipating more work, definitely,” he said. 

“This is only the tip of the iceberg.”

His Port Moresby-based Lohberger Engineering has also been asked to install a water treatment plant. “At the moment there’s a bit of a problem with the sewerage system on Manus,” he said.

“The Australians want a much better system. 

“Like most places on the PNG coast, the sewerage from Manus just goes out to sea.”

He said that discussions had begun about installing a new pumping and sewerage system not only for the expanded asylum-seeker centre but for the capital, Lorengau, with its 5,000 population.

Lohberger is sending an electrician and plumbers there – the same people who flew up when his firm was commissioned to carry out work for the first centre under John Howard’s Pacific Solution.

Lohberger, who employs 160 people in Port Moresby, expects to recruit about 10 staff in Manus to carry out maintenance. This was good news for the island, he said. 

“People are very keen to work over there. As elsewhere in PNG, there’s not enough work.”

Greg Anderson, executive director of the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, said that international contractors had become more prevalent as the country’s resources industry ramped up over the last decade. He said large Australian and New Zealand construction firms such as Leighton – advertising for tradesmen in Port Moresby – Fletcher and Clough, as well as Curtain, had built considerable PNG expertise, which could be available for work.

He said this would “help take up the slack” as construction of the LNG project winds down, with production starting next year.

Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato is establishing a taskforce to handle the asylum-seeker deal in collaboration with the immigration department head. Australia is preparing to send immigration staff to support their counterparts.

This financial year’s A$507 million (K1.05 billion) aid programme is being redrafted to fit PNG’s own priorities – including, for instance, the rebuilding of Lae’s Angau hospital – The Australian