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Destruction on the Sepik River

| Auna Melo Blog

WEWAK - Many people living along the Sepik River have raised concerns about the serious destruction of the river.

The river and the people who rely on it are affected by the movement of tug boats and pontoons along the river but their calls are falling on deaf ears.

The logging operations are in West Sepik Province, however the companies use the river as the fastest way to ferry the logs from the headwaters of the river to the sea.

Little do the companies understand that their actions are adversely affecting the people and their livelihoods.

The continuous movement of the boats causes problems on the river.

The serious concerns raised include sedimentation, river bank erosion, pollution from oil spills and disturbed fishing grounds.

“The logging is in West Sepik, why are the logs being brought down our river?” an elder from Avatip village in the Middle Sepik asked.

“We’re being affected by these boats. We do not want them on our river.”

The same sentiment was echoed in the 24 villages of the Upper and Middle Sepik river I visited recently.

There is resentment towards the logging companies who are using the river and destroying it.

I interviewed a couple of people who shared their concerns on the use of the river by logging companies and how it was affecting them.

From those interviews, I put together a video to get their voices out there for the government to see.

You can see the 10-minute video here – meet some of our people and understand the threats they face.


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Bernard Corden

A new report published by Jubilee Australia Research Centre in collaboration with Project Sepik raises concerns about the proposed Frieda River copper-gold mining project.

This mine would be established in Papua New Guinea’s West and East Sepik provinces by PanAust (a Chinese-owned, Australian-based company headquartered in Brisbane).

The report alleges that the intended mining activity threatens to destroy the health of a major river system and poison fish stocks, and has the potential to cause violent unrest.
Further, the report alleges that the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of locals was not adequately obtained, and that “legitimate concerns about the impact of the mine on their river were not being seriously considered”.




Philip Fitzpatrick

Will Muskens posted the following comment on the Exkiap website today after viewing the video.

"For a more comprehensive report on the problems facing the Sepik River, especially the proposed massive Frieda River mine, take a look at the following site:


It will be interesting to see if the people that live along the river and depend on it for their livelihoods will be able to convince the national government to refuse approvals for the mine to go ahead by the current Chinese owners of the mining lease, Guangdong Rising H.K. through its subsidiary PanAust:


If they fail and the mine does go ahead it is likely to cause far greater devastation to the environment than what occurred at Panguna, Ok Tedi and Porgera mines.

My interest in the Frieda River mine stems from a visit I made to that place in January 1996 at the behest of Mal "Kela" Smith, the owner of Pacific Helicopters in Goroka - I had known him from the time that he first came to Goroka as a chopper pilot circa 1972, when I was ADC Goroka, and subsequently from 1988 to 1992 when I was Goroka Town Manager.

I had also in previous years spent 6 months in the West Sepik, establishing a new Patrol Post and airstrip on the border with Indonesia at Imonda (1962) followed by 12 months as OIC Green River (1963).

In later years Mal Smith went into politics and became Eastern Highlands Provincial Governor (when he changed his name to "Kela") and, as has been reported elsewhere, died in April at Redcliffe Hospital from complications of COVID-19

Mal contacted me in December 1995 to ask if I would be interested to have a look at a joint venture proposal that he was negotiating with representatives of the Frieda River mine site, to setup a air charter business to ferry supplies from coastal ports to the Frieda River base camp.

At the time I was comfortably ensconced running the family business, Kilcoy Newsagency but as I was due to take a couple of weeks off to holiday on the Coast, I decided to take up his offer for a fortnight back in PNG. Smith had told me that if the venture got off the ground there would be an opportunity for me to take on a management position, which could be on the basis of FIFO.

So it was that in January 1996 I flew to Port Moresby for a briefing, then on to Goroka, the following day Smith and I flew by Cessna from Goroka to Tabubil for an overnight stay at Cloudlands Hotel (managed by an old mate Howard Mason) where I met one of the landowners' representatives, a smooth-talking fellow who had been a minor diplomat for PNG Foreign Affairs working for Ok Tedi mines.

The next day we flew on to the airstrip alongside the Frieda River where I would spend about a week at the base camp, and Smith flew back to Goroka.

Within a day or two it became clear that things were not quite what had been purported as even the expatriate base camp manager (employed by then owners Highlands Gold) told me that Mal Smith was not exactly welcomed by the local people and advised me to proceed cautiously.

At meetings I arranged with local village people they came along somewhat reluctantly and only after reassurances that I was there to determine who the real landowners are did they relax and informed me that the two men who were talking with Mal Smith had no authority to represent them, nor were they in any way related to anyone in that part of the Sepik, not even by marriage.

This certainly threw a big spanner in the works and I spent the remaining time taking statements from the real landowners and compiling a list of their names; also pondering how I was going to break this bad news to Mr Smith!

When I returned to Goroka Mal Smith was out of town so I compiled a detailed written report of my findings, which I presented to him in his office the following day.

His response was furious and littered with blasphemy - needless to say my relationship with him, to my great regret, ended acrimoniously. Whilst I was certainly taken aback by his attitude I could also understand that it would have been quite humiliating for him to be informed that he had been conned by two smooth-talking crooks. After all, he had been a highly successful businessman, developing one of the biggest rotary wing aircraft operations in the southern hemisphere, and rarely if ever not getting his way in the world!

Overall I did in fact really enjoy this brief episode in my life, flying around some of the more remote parts of PNG, loved meeting the landowners and chatting about their daily activities, even taking a chopper ride high up in the mountains above the Frieda River base camp to see the engineers working on the prospect....a beautiful part of the world!

Let's hope it remains buried treasure....."

Philip Fitzpatrick

I watched the video on a large screen and its very impressive.

The image of the logs on the barge is quite distressing but I enjoyed the footage of saksak making.

And soon there will be more barges travelling up and down to the mine. Just like there are on the Fly River. Wetlands silting up and no more fish is a recurring theme.

Congratulations Duncan and good luck with the government.

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