The Papua New Guinea National Maritime Safety Authority: A Ship with a Hole?
What is going on at the PNG National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA)?
The NMSA was established by an Act of Parliament in 2003 (NMSA Act 2003) as a not-for-profit statutory authority, to raise standards of maritime safety and prevent and control marine pollutions from shipping services within Papua New Guinean waters.
The Authority’s website [UPDATE: Since the time I wrote this article the NMSA has changed its website. You can find the NMSA's new website here] states that its “…primary responsibilities are to undertake government regulatory functions on safety of shipping services and to meet the expectations of the shipping industry, its customers and coastal communities for a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible shipping sector as it is regarded very crucial to Papua New Guinea’s social and economic development”.
The Authority’s functions and responsibilities are defined in the NMSA Act 2003 and are summarised under the following three main categories:
- Maritime Safety
- Marine Pollution Control
- Corporate Governance – Efficiency, Transparency, Accountability, and Sustainability
Since its inception in 2003, the entity has had quite a colourful history regarding a number of issues which have been reported widely in the PNG Media. Most of those issues stemmed from the Authority simply doing its job in inspecting both local and foreign vessels operating in PNG and making sure ship owners were complying with shipping rules and regulations (both Lutheran Shipping and Rabaul Shipping have been targeted by the NMSA).
There is another issue which raised eyebrows (including my own) and which once again resurfaced only a few days ago and that is the appointment of Hamish Sharp as Chairman of the NMSA. Hamish Sharp was appointed by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare in 2006 on the reccomendation of the then Minister for Transportation and Civil Aviation, and Kandep MP, Don Polye.
The appointment of Hamish Sharp was investigated by the Ombudsman Commission in 2007 for possible breaches of the National Maritime Safety Authority Act 2003 – and as I far as I know, the results have yet to be made public. If the manner in which Hamish Sharp displaced his predecessor Michael Kasi on the Board, and then leapfrogged the ranks to become Chairman at the expense of Doug Reid, was not controversial (The August 26, 2006 Government Gazette stated that Kasi ‘resigned’ from the NMSA Board whereas he was in fact terminated by Don Polye because it was “in the best interest of the country” – read more here), the fact that Hamish Sharp owns Bismark Maritime Pty Ltd, a small to medium sized shipping company based in Lae, definitely was.
I think even the three blind mice would have been able to sniff out a conflict of interest here. To magnify the situation further, Hamish Sharp’s older brother Peter Sharp owns Starships (PNG) Limited (aka Coastal Shipping Company or Rabaul Shipping) – the single largest passenger ship operator in PNG!).
I included a letter from a concerned citizen to The National. You can find the original here.
As you can see, the letter raises a number of issues which I have yet to cover, namely, the popular passenger ship MV Sealark. For those of you who follow PNG news, you may remember that the MV Sealark’s engines caught on fire on April 7, 2006 while berthed outside of Lae. In the process two Filipino crew members were severely burnt and the ship was subsequently sunk just outside the harbour which immediately resulted in another problem – a 300m radius oil spill.
[NOTE: The fate of the two Filipino crew members and their alleged treatment by Hamish Sharp is another story altogether and adds a rather distasteful twist in the plot. You can read their story here (a word of caution though, some of the photos on that site are quite graphic)].
Once MV Sealark had been sunk and the oil spill occurred, the NMSA issued an order to Bismark Maritime Pty Ltd (owned by Hamish Sharp, the Chairman of the NMSA) to prevent pollution from the ship. It also issued a ‘wreck removal’ order on the company to raise and remove the wreck from its sunken location. At the time, NMSA General Manager Chris Rupen said the orders were issued because the location where the ship had sunk was considered to pose a significant threat to the environment and to commercial shipping.
Now get this, somewhere in between the sinking of the MV Sealark and the service of the two warrants, the Chairman of the NMSA managed to sell his ship’s wreckage to an unnamed buyer for the princely fee of – ONE KINA!
Don’t believe me? Read more here.
The final result two years on: Hamish Sharp is still the Chairman of the NMSA and the MV Sealark is still lying underwater in the Lae harbour zone and no attempt is being made to remove it.
At the end of 2007, the PNG Ports Corporation warned of a major disaster waiting to happen to both international and local ships calling into Lae because the location of the wreckage was not marked on ships’ navigational charts or identified physically by a navigational light buoy.
NMSA General Manger Chris Rupen replied to PNGPC’s concern by stating that there were really only three options open for consideration: 1) To raise the wreck and remove it at considerable cost, 2) To leave it where it was and have it properly and clearly marked, and 3) To blow the wreck to into pieces.
It’s been two years since the incident and the issue had been slightly swept under the rug and it seemed to be almost forgotten until the 19 August, 2008 when something significant happened. Something which undoubtedly triggered a whole lot of memories including my own: the sinking of the San Pedro off Mailu Island in waters between Central and Milne Bay.
Who owns the San Pedro? The same Chairman of the NMSA.
The San Pedro apparently sank because of a hole in the port side of its engine room – resulting in it going down with millions of Kina worth of cargo.
Now, I don’t know if you believe in something called karma, but that definitely sprung to my mind when I found out the fate of the San Pedro. However, the sinking of this particular vessel raises a number of questions that need to be answered and there is a surprising twist that even I did not expect.
For those of you who follow PNG news, you will recall that earlier this year Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare came under fire by the Opposition for lying to the House about owning shares in Pacific Register of Ships Limited (PRS) – a ship safety certification company incorporated in PNG but servicing the Pacific. Sir Michael rebutted the accusation by stating that he was holding the shares on behalf of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea although it was pointed out that PRS is not a government owned company and therefore does not warrant a cabinet minister nor head of Government holding shares in trust for the State. You can read more here.
Coincidentally, Bismark Maritime lists PRS as its certification company and notes on its website that the San Pedro’s last dry docking was completed in April 2005. When Sir Michael’s relationship with PRS was revealed, Papua New Guinea’s Maritime Union called on the PM to have the ship certification company deregistered.
The Union also claimed that the Pacific Register of Ships Limited (PRS) did not carry out proper safety checks on ships and was putting passengers’ lives and vessels at risk while simultaneously duplicating the roles and functions of the NMSA which is legally entrenched to be in charge of the inspection and the surveying of all ships that come into the country. NMSA General Manager Chris Rupen also admitted that the PRS was not trustworthy.
NOTE: Questions that need to be answered:
- Why was Hamish Sharp appointed to Chairman of the NMSA when there is an obvious conflict of interest?
- Why doesn’t the Chairman of the NMSA accept responsibility for the MV Sealark and displace of it in a proper manner instead of creating a potential international catastrophe?
- How does a 718 tonne cargo ship manage to develop a hole in the port side of its engine room when it is in the middle of its shipping route?
- Why is Pacific Register of Ships Limited (PRS) inspecting ships when that is not the company’s job?
- Was PRS also responsible in certifying that MV Sealark was sea-worthy?
- Why is Sir Michael Somare holding shares in PRS on “behalf” of the State?
- Why has the Chairman of the NMSA, the organisation responsible for ensuring maritime safety in PNG, had two of his own ships sink in the last 2 years?
~ by Tavurvur on August 26, 2008.
Posted in PNG Shipping, PNG Transportation
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