The Sinking of the San Pedro & the PNG Media

A Sinking Feeling

At times I wonder whether the PNG media has the balls to tackle an issue upfront, with purpose and without fear of repercussion from those powers above, who from time to time the reporting may be concerned with. The basis of solid investigative journalism is discovering the hard facts, but more importantly, standing by them once the story finally goes to print. The dilution of the facts of a story for fear of some sort of repercussion is not at all a positive sign for the constructive role the media can play in the development of a nation. For isn’t diluting the facts of a story in order to protect one’s self from repercussions defeat the basic purpose of seeking out such a story to begin with?

What has prodded me to ponder the above scenario is an article written by The National’s Oseah Philemon on Thursday concerning the investigative report into the capsizing of the cargo barge, the San Pedro, in August of last year. Tubuans & Dukduks has extensively covered the sinking of the San Pedro and the many unsettled questions surrounding the self-explanatory conflict of interest between the owner of the San Pedro and the incumbent Chairman of the PNG National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA). And in case you can’t figure out why the conflict of interest is glaringly evident, it’s because the owner of the San Pedro (the ship that sunk) and the Chairman of the NMSA (who is supposed to ensure ships  are safe to operate) are the same person – Hamish Sharp.

Philemon’s article discusses how the NMSA investigative report describes lack of adherence to the International Safety Management (ISM) Code by Hamish Sharp as owner of the vessel. The report states the following:

“The importance of the master of a ship has been a major feature of shipping from the earliest days. Owners of the ship and the man on board have, until ISM, accepted that the success of shipping ventures would be influenced by the man appointed as captain of the ship, since the safety of the ship, its personnel and cargo depended primarily on the captain’s skill as a seaman and a navigator and on his experience and ability as an organiser and manager of men. The captain was, for the most part, out of contact with his shipowner, he therefore had considerable responsibility over the operations of his ship”.

I find it quite difficult to understand why the NMSA investigative report into the sinking of the San Pedro is focusing on the role of the master of the ship. I also find it perplexing as to why Philemon focused on this section of the report.  I say this because the San Pedro sank due to a hole in the port side of its engine room – not because of an operational fault of the captain. The  San Pedro didn’t sink because of the captain’s lack of skill, nor did it go under because the captain didn’t know how to navigate, no, the ship sank because of a hole! It was and never will be an issue about the management or stewardship of the master of the ship, rather, it is an issue about the maritime safety responsibilities of the owner to ensure that his ship was safe to operate in the first instance.

Referring back to the ISM Code that the NMSA report so willingly focuses on, it is important to note that the same Code also outlines responsibilities for owners of shipping vessels. Under Section 10 of the ISM Code, it states:

10 Maintenance of the Ship and Equipment

10.1 The Company should establish procedures to ensure that the ship is maintained in conformity with the provisions of the relevant rules and regulations and with any additional requirements which may be established by the Company.

10.2 In meeting these requirements the Company should ensure that:

.1 inspections are held at appropriate intervals;

.2 any non-conformity is reported, with its possible cause, if known;

.3 appropriate corrective action is taken; and

.4 records of these activities are maintained.

The so called NMSA investigative report further states: “the evidence before the investigators shows that through lack of implementation of regulations in respect of manning, from questions of loading and stability, and from the statements of the crew, that the company’s attitude towards implementation of the ISM Code on this vessel was not fully committed”. Again, I see the irrelevance of the report focusing on the “loading and stability” and “manning” of the crew. Where is the connection between the “manning” of the crew and the sinking of the San Pedro?

A ship doesn’t develop a hole in the port side of its engine room because of “loading and stability” issues nor because of “manning” issues. It doesn’t magically appear out of nowhere while in the middle of a shipping run.

One year on from the sinking of San Pedro and there still exists serious questions and issues that need to be answered and addressed for the sake of PNG’s reputation and credibility within the domestic and international shipping industry. I find it difficult to comprehend how one could justify accepting such a position considering the positional nature of one’s self within the given industry. It is not in the best interest of the people of PNG and the reasonable man would have understood that from the beginning.

~ by Tavurvur on October 9, 2009.

5 Responses to “The Sinking of the San Pedro & the PNG Media”

  1. Been a while!

    Good to see back …


  2. When you get a moment please rename my link from “Robert@PNG” to “Trupela Tok”. Thanks.


  3. Good article T. So then who can investigate the NMSA?

  4. Great article, and if it’s okay with you, I’d like to use excerpts for The National’s shipping news, which I look after. Who do I attribute the article to?

  5. there was a sinking of a coastal ship in PNG approximately 1970-71. I do not remember the details, except for the fact that a caterpillar bulldozer D7 engine head was part of the cargo. It was to be delivered to the Dami Forest Station in West New Britain. That loss put PJdalton@phonewave.netour equipment out of operation for another three months or so.

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