pngh1In the past sea transport was always linked to exploration. Now it is linked to trade and to the economic growth of PNG. The coastal regions of PNG were, the first to be developed. Whalers and traders in sandalwood, beche de mer and mother of pearl shell were the first to use PNG’s natural harbours. The colonial administration developed plantations on the coastal plains close to harbours to allow easy export to foreign markets.

There are now over 50 public ports in PNG of which 17 are administered by PNG Harbours Boards. The total traffic at the Harbours Board ports has grown at an average of 5% per annum reaching over 3 million tonnes, of which 67% is overseas cargo. Dry general cargo accounts for 83% and liquid bulk for 17% of total traffic. The main export commodities handled are copper, copra, coffee, palm oil and timber. Imports consist mainly of manufactured goods, food grains, fertiliser, chemicals and petroleum products.

The Harbours Board is a Statutory Body under the Minister of Transport. It is responsible for the administration and control of all activities associated with the movement of ships and cargo handling within the limits of the ports in its jurisdiction. It is also responsible for the control of pilotage services and the maintenance of certain navigational aids. It is not responsible for registration, licensing, surveys or manning.pngh2The Board is financially autonomous but is subject to Government tax regulations. There have been frequent charges that the Board constitutes a monopoly. Managing Director Charles Punaha would like to correct this impression. “In 1976 we were handling 95% of the traffic but now we are down to 60-65%. The rest comes from the private sector. They offer stiff competition. For example since the private wharves opened in Lae in 1989, 15% of the traffic has diverted there and we have been forced to become more customer oriented.” At present the Board is not handling any cargo from the big resource developers – mining, petroleum or timber. They all have their own wharves. The Board is out to tempt them with concessions.

The 17 ports are grouped into regions centred on Port Moresby, Lae, Rabaul and Kieta. Trade comes in combo or multi-purpose ships averaging 12,000 tonnes dwt which either carry part of their container shipment as deck cargo or are pure container ships of around 400 TEU capacity. Copra and coffee exports are generally handled as break bulk. There are no on-shore cranes at PNG ports, or at most other ports in the South Pacific region. A ll ships are self-reliant.

pngh3A berth reservation system applies at the main ports. Passenger vessels, foreign naval vessels, tankers and cargo ships which have given advance notice and have paid fees are allowed to berth alongside.

General warehousing facilities are not provided. All covered and open stacking areas are for transit purposes only. Most of the larger ports have bonded warehouses to which undelivered cargo can be consigned. Only those stevedoring organisations licensed by the Board are allowed to handle cargo within the Board’s operating areas, with exceptions at certain smaller ports. Hpngh4owever, the Board has no control over charges and cannot be blamed for the high labour costs at PNG ports.

The Board currently has difficulty in meeting its corporate objectives. “They will always be in conflict”, says Charles Punaha. “How can we attain a 10% profit on investments as well as fulfil our requirement to be a social provider of services in the outlying areas? Only two of our ports show a profit, Moresby and Lae. They subsidise operations at all the rest”.There seems little chance of the private sector taking on expensive, unprofitable harbours. But without their port some small places would be without food. It could affect the economy of an entire province, like Milne Bay or Gulf for example. It is a dilemma which faces almost any Ministry concerned with infrastructure. Meanwhile the Harbours Board has to maintain an acceptable balance between its financial and social objectives.