Customs board, impound oil tanker off Rabaul
By PETERSEN TSERAHA and SIMON ERORO
A oil tanker suspected of transporting heavy fuel oil unlawfully siphoned from fuel tanks in Loloho, Bougainville has been impounded.
Customs and PNG Defence Force Navy operations nabbed the tanker 400 nautical miles out of Loloho on Monday in a special operation codenamed Steady.
PNGDF vessel HMAS Seadler intercepted the oil tanker and escorted it to Rabaul where customs officials and police boarded the vessel to investigate before it sails back to Port Moresby.
The tanker’s Asian crew members have been arrested and charged for being in possession of pornographic and other contraband materials.
The Malaysian registered tanker MV UVP Sjorg was in Loloho for almost three weeks loading oil, which was used by the Loloho power station in the 1980’s to power the Panguna mine and the whole of Arawa town.
The vessel was closely monitored by Bougainville police, but it was loading under very tight security provided by armed locals who kept watch on the vessel.
This was the second shipment of crude oil out of Loloho, and there is heated debate over the activities of the tanker between ex-combatants.
PNG Customs Commissioner Gary Juffa said the vessel had been detained in the port of Rabaul while Customs investigate the legality of the shipment. He said a search of the vessel by the team found significant amounts of pornography and other contraband.
“My officers have confirmed that the oil tanker entered Papua New Guinea without reporting its arrival in advance as required under the Customs Act and Maritime Transport laws,” Mr Juffa said.
He alleged that the vessel illegally loaded the siphoned heavy fuel oil without authority and attempted to depart without properly reporting its cargo as required under the Customs Act. Mr Juffa said the Customs officers in Bougainville were believed to have cleared the vessel under duress and it is believed that Customs is contemplating withdrawing its officers to Buka as the officers’ situation on the main island becomes untenable.
He confirmed that the oil tanker was chartered by a Singaporean company under an agreement with a company alleged to be operating in Bougainville. Customs is investigating the matter with police and PNGDF officers. “PNG has laws to protect its citizens and these laws must be followed and respected. Foreign elements have on far too many occasions taken the liberty to ignore our laws,” Mr Juffa said. He warned foreigners to respect PNG’s sovereignty as a nation when travelling into its territory and not whenever they felt like it and operating with little concern for the laws because such behavior could no longer be tolerated.
He said the risk posed by foreign elements that illegally travelled in and out of PNG, especially in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, was becoming unacceptable.