By DOROTHY MARK
A CRUISE ship carrying 1500 tourists turned back after reaching Madang town yesterday when a ship’s agent alerted the captain to a health scare in town posted on social media.
The health scare was a false alarm but the captain, despite assurances by businessman Sir Peter Barter (pictured) that the town was safe and the people were waiting to welcome the tourists, turned around the cruise ship Pacific Aria, which had arrived at 6am, and left at around 8am.
A disappointed Sir Peter, the managing director of the Melanesian Tourist Services Limited, said hundreds of people mostly from cultural groups who had arrived in town early yesterday to welcome the passengers, had to return home with nothing.
“Countless hours were also spent by MTS staff in organising contractors and arranging security only to be told the ship had cancelled the visit all because of an unsubstantiated post on social media,” he said.
He said the post had mischievously linked an isolated case of a sick child to an outbreak of anthrax in Madang, saying it was a threat to humans.
The National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspections Authority (NAQIA) said the anthrax outbreak reported in Karkar last month had been brought under control.
NAQIA’s chief veterinary Dr Gibasa Asiba said the type of anthrax bacteria reported in Karkar was common in PNG and affected only pigs, not humans.
Sir Peter called on police and authorities to identify and deal with the person who posted the false information because it had hurt a lot of people.
Sir Peter said he had presented a copy of a letter from NAQIA to the captain of the ship which confirmed that the type of anthrax did not affect humans. But he said the captain ignored the advice saying his bosses in Australia had already made the decision to cancel the visit to Madang.
“The damage to Madang and the possible flow-on effects to other vessels (and the) image of PNG has created an enormous challenge. We are seeking the support of the Tourism Promotion Authority to combat such incidents in the future,” he said.
Handcraft sellers and traditional singsing groups had gathered early in the morning to welcome the tourists ashore. But they went home disappointed because all their preparations had gone to waste.
By DOROTHY MARK