An old relationship re-ignites
Is Melanesian liberal democracy doomed?

Slow boats, banana boats & stopped buses

MV Ialibu
MV Ialibu - a slow boat to Lae now being replaced by an even slower boat

| Sipikriva Girl | Edited

FINSCHHAFEN - I live in Finschhafen, Morobe, where the only way to reach Lae is to travel the 80 kilometers east by watercraft.

Lutheran Shipping Services has scheduled boats which pass through Finschhafen once or twice a week.

The only downside is the time it takes to get here. The new shipping schedule doesn’t improve things. The older MV Momase is replacing MV Ialibu on the run between Lae and Finschhafen.

It is a whole lot faster to travel by banana boat, and on my irregular trips to Lae this is how I travel, boarding random banana boats at stops at Gagidu near Finschhafen and at Voco Point in Lae.

It can be quite the struggle as young men forcefully grab your bags and shout at you to get on a boat that belongs to someone they know or because they make a couple of bucks for getting a passenger.

It borders on harassment and, no matter how you argue otherwise, you get to be a passenger on a boat you did not choose.

My last trip to Lae was last Thursday to attend my bank which does not have a branch in Finschhafen.

On the banana boat to Finschhafen
Aboard the banana boat to Finschhafen

I decided to call Manus, a boat operator just past Butaweng on the Mape River five kilometers west of Finschhafen, with whom I’d never travelled before.

Manus told me he’d pick me up at seven in the morning. I figured he’d be late, and I was pleasantly surprised when people told me he always arrived on time.

Thursday morning came with heavy rains and a downcast sky. I hurriedly got ready and was at the boat stop at seven.

When Manus did not show up after 20 twenty minutes, I called him and enquired if he was still going to make the trip. He was but had been delayed by the rain.

By this time I was thoroughly soaked so ran back to my house and changed into dry clothes. I had lost my umbrella a while back.

At seven thirty, Manus arrived at the mouth of Butaweng and glided in to get me. I hopped on and hoped for the rain to stop as we made our way to the boat stop at Gagidu.

Right now we were only two passengers. The rain, which had let up for a bit, started coming down again.

Manus maintained he had to leave Gagidu before nine which I figured was just talk as most boat crews want at least five or six people on board before starting out.

But, true to his word, at eight thirty he called to me and I walked over and hopped back on board. He told me the rain would not be letting up so we needed to leave early.

After being underway for 15 minutes, the rain was so heavy we could not see more than three meters ahead. However, the sea was kind.

I arrived in Lae safely and went about my business.

Now I was delayed by the bank and I had to spend the weekend in Lae, planning to return to Finschhafen on Monday. I called Manus to check if he was in Lae. He was, he said his schedule had been ruined because of some miscommunication with the SDA church.

Come Monday, Manus planned to leave before 10am. The weather was cloudy and there was a strong wind blowing. The boat was almost full by the time I arrived with my luggage.

A man approached me and asked for my name to put on the bags. This was the first time I’d been asked to do this and I looked at him perplexed.

He told me he wanted to tag my bags in case they got lost. I gave him my name, and he did what he promised except instead of writing Hazel, Butaweng, he wrote A.J. Butaweng. I didn’t mind. I was impressed by the tags.

Once seated in the boat, the same man started doling out life jackets to the passengers. Even a six year old got to put on a small one.

Eventually when we were about to leave, Manus addressed the passengers in a way very similar to flight attendants. He gave a small talk about not smoking or drinking on board and also promoted his weekly schedule. After which, owing to his Christian nature, he said a prayer.

I got thinking about how sea transport could be revolutionised for even the smallest boat operator.

In 2016, the National Maritime Safety Authority introduced the small craft registration office after a number of pirate attacks. However, I believe this office could do much more than simply registering and insuring boats.

Each provincial small craft team should also be responsible for scheduling trips so no business owner misses out on passengers. For instance, there should be weekly as well as daily schedules.

Boats should leave departure ports at set times. Passengers would not have to worry about when they should be at the wharf because they would know the departure times. Boats could start leaving port from as early as six am with intervals in between.

This body could also introduce ticketing systems so customers can purchase tickets for particular times. Surely that’s not too much to ask? Anything done for larger vessels can be replicated for commercial small craft.

Despite load restrictions, no official supervises this. Officers should be assigned to do safety inspections and check crew and passenger numbers. This would account for all passengers in case of mishaps at sea.

All boats should carry basic safety gear and provide precautionary talks before every trip. Life vests, flares and maybe even radios should be on board.

There are eleven mandatory items listed in Schedule 4 of the Small Craft Act but most operators only have one or two of them. On recent trips to and from Lae, I have only once been given a life jacket.

On other trips, in place of the oars specified in the Act, there was a long pole.

On a recent trip to Lae my sister was on a boat that met with several mishaps. It twice ran out of fuel and drifted until passing boats came to the rescue. Nor was there a single life jacket on board.

Experienced travellers might not see this as a big deal, but finding out about this made me realise the potential for things turning nasty.

If each maritime province’s small craft team did their job strictly, like in the airline industry, efficiency and safety would be much improved.

To improve things further, proper docks should be constructed instead of passengers and skippers wading through the water to get on board.

A road with no buses
Lae last Friday - a road with no buses

And similar improvement should also be made for land transport, I thought as I struggled to get on a bus in Lae last Friday. The previous night a bus crew member had been murdered and as a result all bus operators staged a protest.

Most PMVs in Lae are owned and operated by people originally from the Highlands where the crew member came from. There was talk that something could blow up into fully-fledged tribal warfare.

So I resorted to hailing a taxi. On one trip the taxi driver was a large, friendly man, probably from the New Guinea Islands.

Offering me his opinion about the bus operators’ protest, he mentioned that certain buses should be operated by people that represent all regions. Maybe 20 buses by Highlanders, 20 by the Morobe people and so for the other regions.

It would prevent events like this, he said. I could only vigorously nod at in agreement. I never figured someone would think like that.

Who knows, maybe one day a better regulated public transportation system will be in place. Maybe passengers will not be harassed and be able to choose how they want to travel.


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Bernard Corden

I should have included with my previous comment the recent Boeing 737 Max airline disasters involving Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

Two crashes in less than six months involving brand new aircraft with the deaths of 346 people were not pilot error. Boeing callously sacrificed protection over production by using single sensor software that misinterpreted pitch stability and usurped control of the aircraft from its pilots.

The corporate behemoth failed to provide amended flight manuals and advanced training, which left pilots operating in the dark and clutching at straws as the aircraft plummeted from the sky.

Moreover, self-regulation inevitably degenerated into deregulation that enabled Boeing to control the aircraft certification process on behalf of the US Federal Aviation Administration, whose budget was savaged by a Republican congress.

The Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was rewarded with a $62 million golden parachute and was recently appointed as CEO and chairman of New Vista Acquisition Corp.,being%20fired%20for%20poor%20handling%20of%20the%20fatal

Bernard Corden

The consequences of letting the market rip were all too evident during the cataclysmic home insulation program under a fiscally conservative Australian prime minister who proclaimed that socialism was an arcane 19th century doctrine during the 2007 federal election campaign and was subsequently rewarded with life membership of the ALP.

Meanwhile the bereaved families are left chasing smoke via malevolent delay, deny and die tactics and their only parole is death or dementia.

The deeply pernicious concept of free market fundamentalism was also revealed during the inquiry into the MV Rabaul Queen ferry disaster, which occurred back in February 2012 and resulted in the deaths of approximately 500 people.

Chris Overland

Hazel Kutkue has provided us with an informative and interesting description of the trials and tribulations associated with moving around modern PNG.

It seems that the PNG government has essentially let the market rip when it comes to the provision of water transport services.

Consequently, as seems routinely the case in PNG now, the service schedules and general condition of the vessels involved seems to vary widely between good to problematic to downright unsafe.

One aspect of western culture that Australia does not appear to have effectively embedded in PNG is the notion that complex machinery and systems need to be carefully designed, constructed, operated and maintained in order to achieve maximum safety and efficiency.

The colonial system may have inadvertently contributed to this problem because, all too often, it relied upon decidedly ramshackle machinery and a somewhat laissez faire approach to maintenance.

Often, this was simply a function of lack of access to the required expertise, machinery, parts and equipment.

Consequently, a high premium was placed upon making do with what you had and many Papua New Guineans certainly became adept at this, with 'bush mechanics' setting up business in all sort of locations.

They could somehow devise solutions to mechanical problems that, whatever the lack of sophistication and elegance involved, got things going again.

This is a skill that should not be under rated and is common in the developing world.

That said, this is not a good way to do things in the long term as there are clear limits upon how long you can safely operate machinery like planes, boats and cars without proper maintenance and specialist support.

These days things are getting so complicated that fault finding in machines like cars requires a specially trained technician armed with a computer which can interrogate the vehicles on board computers to find and correct a fault.

By way of example, my daughter flew for nearly a decade in the RAAF's venerable PC3 Orion aircraft which were essentially militarised versions of the Lockheed Electra first built in the 1950's.

The aircraft boasted over 100 different circuit breakers and every crew member had to learn where these were and what they did so that, in the event of a fault, they could reset the systems.

It was a point of honour that every crew member could work out which of these circuit breakers had to be either pulled or reset to keep the old planes flying.

Now, with the new P8 Poseidon, there are no circuit breakers and no means by which the crew can physically reset the aircraft systems if they fail (which, in fairness, they rarely do).

Instead, they rely upon inbuilt computerised troubleshooting systems to detect the problem and then fix the fault. There is no scope of bush mechanics with such a machine.

This is not, to my way of thinking, a great leap forward, but it the way things are going anyway.

I guess that PNG is going to be stuck with sub-standard transport systems for a long time simply because it seems likely to be very poorly placed to cope with the highly sophisticated electronics and systems found in modern machines.

This means that Hazel is likely to have to endure the sort of experiences she has related in her article for many years yet.

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