The Papua New Guinea National Maritime Safety Authority: A Ship with a Hole?

Papua New Guinea National Maritime Safety Authority

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:

The Executive Management of the NMSA

The Executive Management team of the NMSA at a meeting with Mr Jeff Hawkin, Managing Director of Asia Pacific Maritime Institute

  1. Maritime Safety
  2. Marine Pollution Control
  3. 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!).

A letter to The National from a concerned citizen regarding Hamish Sharp's appointment as Chairman of the NMSA

A letter to The National from a concerned citizen regarding Hamish Sharp's appointment to Chairman of the NMSA

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!

Post-Courier file photo of MV Sealark arriving in Port Moresby for her maiden voyage.

A firetruck beside the MV Sealark after fighting the fires that had started in her engine room. Picture LAE POLICE. INSET: Post-Courier file photo of MV Sealark arriving in Port Moresby for her maiden voyage.

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.

The 718.36 tonne San Pedro

The 718.36 tonne San Pedro

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:

  1. Why was Hamish Sharp appointed to Chairman of the NMSA when there is an obvious conflict of interest?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. Why is Pacific Register of Ships Limited (PRS) inspecting ships when that is not the company’s job?
  5. Was PRS also responsible in certifying that MV Sealark was sea-worthy?
  6. Why is Sir Michael Somare holding shares in PRS on “behalf” of the State?
  7. 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.

13 Responses to “The Papua New Guinea National Maritime Safety Authority: A Ship with a Hole?”

  1. In many ways you have only scratched the surface on this subject and one particular issue of great concern is the economic impact associated with the losses of both vessels.Third party losses of cargo and the impact of pollution (both from fuel oils and containers) to our pristine coastal waterways will not be recoverd from the shipowner as information to hand is that the vessel was not insured and even had it been there is every likihood that the underwriters would have declined to pay as a direct result of the shipowner operating a vessel that was unseaworthy and in breach of many national and international regulations relating to vessel saftey and operational management.One can only speculate on the outcome when cargo owners stage a class action for the recovery of millions of kina’s worth of cargo lost from the sinking of the “San Pedro”. This could well be the straw that breaks the back of Hamish Sharp’s invlovement in the maritime industry of PNG.We can only hope but i will not hold my breath.Great blog and I will be a keen reader of future issues.

  2. Well Done — your thoughts mirror mine precisely – I only wish i could stay as calm and eloquent as yourself on this subject.

    I don’t know if you are aware but Mr Sharp also sank the Flaoting Dock – KFD2500 — in suspicious circumstances.
    Whilst we salvaged it on behalf of the unwitting insurers we found 200+ holes in it and also found both ballasting pumps disconnected. We got paid, but I don’t think insuruers were so generous with Hamish. As the insuruers (Scottish) representative said “Hamish by name – Hamish by nature”.
    Another name worthy of mention is the guy who surveyed the Dock and declared it seaworthy — Len Micheals who at the time worked for Bureau Veritas and was instrumental with Hamish in setting up the Pacific Registry. Len also did work for RH Shipping Division and surveyed their boats (which are better than Hamish’s). The two Chinese names who are shareholders “along with the state” were employees with RH Trading – one now has gone solo back to Kuching. They are private however – not on behalf of RH.
    I’m not too sure if RH have their ships with BV or PR at present?

    The latest sag is with Hamish’s Gulf Glory which arrived in Pom last week over-loaded – we photo’d it and posted it to NMSA who boarded it and issued a detention order due to its condition and crew quality. The last i heard was Hamish and his brief argueing on the jetty with the NMSA brief an dthen it susoicuosly sailed Saturday night loaded to the gunnels with the Detention Notice still valid as far as NMSA was concerned.
    Hamish – bigger than his Safety Authority.

    best of luck,


  3. Thanks for your comments folks! I do appreciate it.

    I wasn’t aware of Mr Sharp’s involvement with the Floating Dock KFD2500 – but it seems that there is a deep web of questionable practices connecting and a corrupt stench permeating throughout Mr Sharp’s involvement with not only the NMSA, but also the PNG shipping industry.

    It stinks of unethical business practice and lack of upholding the triple bottom line – particularly in regard to the stakeholders of Bismark Maritime which include the people of PNG.

    One important point which I didn’t include in my article is the fact that the Pacific Register of Ships Limited (PRS) is legally bound to only survey ships that are less than 500 T.

    The San Pedro was 718.36 T and the Gulf Glory is 532.19 T. They are both listed as being classified and dry-docked by PRS.

    I can smell money here – not for Mr Sharp, but for any of the persons who lost cargo on the San Pedro and are willing to entertain the Courts.

  4. Watch this space as there are rumblings of a “class action” against one of Mr. Sharp’s legal entities that could well mean a recovery by parties who lost cargo in the sinking of the San Pedro.There is some serioud money behind this action so it is not just hot air!!!!

    • Monkeytolai,

      Keep me up to date on the proceedings. I’m surprised it’s taken this long – the matter should have been addressed a long time ago.

      The Ghost of the San Pedro is back to haunt…


  5. Tavurvur,

    Thanks for this article. Wonderfully written. I am absolutely disgusted by the actions of Mr. Sharp. DISGUSTED.

    I hope somebody sues him and sues BIG.


  6. Writs are now being drafted for recovery by cargo interests associated with the sinking of the San Pedro

  7. Writs totalling over K3,000,000 have been registered in the National Court of PNG.Lets see if Mr. Sharp’s companies have any assets that can be liquidated to pay the cargo owners for their losses associated with the sinking of the San Pedro.This action will generate a lot of interest for others who have been fence sitting.Whilst this may have been a long time coming it goes without saying that a lot of research would have been needed to justify the action.I suspect it was not easy to find a legal entity belonging to this person that could be sued with some expectation of success.

  8. Monkeytolai,

    Thanks for this. Please keep up the updates if you’re happy to do so!!! I do appreciate them.

    Now it comes down to the courts – this may be wrangled out in the legal sphere for yet some time. Either way, it will be extremely interesting to see what eventuates from the case.


  9. does anyone have any info on the recent accident along the Salamaua coast involving the ship Lihir Express that sank on Saturday? the ship however was floated later on and then taken back to the Bismark wharf in Lae. i heard a lot of cargo was lost.

  10. Could you please send me Bismark shipping details such as Phone No etc.


    Anthony Green

  11. Another ship sunk (MV Rabaul Queen) of which the owner is Mr. Sharp older brother Peter………

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