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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 29) – The silting problem at Lae Port is more serious than first thought.

The area’s business community is concerned and says the Papua New Guinea Harbors Ltd. to take the lead in gathering experts to find a solution before a major disaster occurs.

Dredging work by Lae-based firm Archipelago Trading Ltd. has been halted following damage to its dredging equipment by strong swells.

But concerned authorities believe just dredging around the port, where almost 50 percent of the country’s export revenue is generated, will not solve the problem.

The dredgers have also said they are wasting their time because the PNG Harbours Ltd. does not seem to be committed to helping them carry out the dredging work and because re-silting is occurring at a faster rate than before.

Pat Stevens, of Archipelago Trading, said yesterday they supported calls for an extensive study to be carried out to determine the type of problems and possible solutions to the silting problem.

"We can’t beat this (silting). Re-silting is taking place at a very fast pace," Stevens said. "The problem is much, much bigger and just dredging will not solve the problem."

He said they had dredged a section of the port to 10 meters but in a year the silt had built up by 3.2 meters at the same site.

Previous studies sanctioned by PNG Harbors indicate the area around the port had a silt build-up rate of 1.2 meters a year.

Stevens also said the lack of support from PNG Harbors, the delay and under-cutting of their payments has also added to the problem.

"Legal advice given to us is to stop the dredging work altogether and go to the courts, but we are still here because we are a Lae company and are concerned about this city," Stevens said.

He said the new understanding was that the formation of an "island" near the mouth of the Markham River was causing heavy flow of silt towards the Lae Port area as well as threatening settlers at Maus Markham.

The "island" which is about 300x30m and 2m high, has forced the direction of the river flow to change, discharging silt directly onto the port area.

He said dredging work had also revealed another threat to the wharf -- erosion at the edge of the seabed about 50m out from the wharf.

"This will have a catastrophic result," Steven said.

Senior technical instructor with the Papua New Guinea University of Technology (Unitech) Department of Surveying and Land Studies Jones Taugailodi earlier called for an extensive study to determine the type of material, which is being deposited by the Markham River.

Taugaloidi said in a paper titled "Lae wharf sedimentation study," although costly, it was vital to address the siltation problem.

He said the Markham River would continue to discharge sediments in larger quantities than in previous years.

Taugaloidi said environmental and geological activities on land and sea would contribute to the increase in sediment deposit at the Lae Port as a result of diversion of flow of long-shore currents.

He said with Lae Port being one of the major ports in PNG, the accretion of sediments would restrict the transportation of general cargo and oil products.

"The decrease in the quantity of cargo handled at the port reduces economic activities and increases costs of goods and services," Taugaloidi.

"In addition shallow depths pose a high risk in berthing, maneuvering and mooring of deep draft vessels and this could lead to a major catastrophe."

He said a survey conducted mid-late last year of the port had indicated two areas to be worst affected one of them being the tanker berth.

Taugaloidi also said the study would have to be carried out as this would help authorities in deciding what course of action would need to be taken.

July 30, 2004

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