Sea Ports in Papua New Guinea

PNG sea ports provide a vital link between PNG and the world market, with more than 80% of exports shipped from ports. PNG has 22 declared international ports, but only 16 are operational. A number of publicly and privately operated minor wharves, jetties, and landings also exist around the country. In 2004, PNG ports handled slightly more than five million tons of general cargo and 195 000 twenty-foot equivalent units of containerised cargo.

The most important port in PNG is Lae, at the end of the Highlands Highway (Figure 6.9.1). Lae has no natural harbour; its port is constructed on land that is geologically unstable and the berths require continual dredging. In 2004, Lae port handled 51% of the general cargo and 56% of the containerised cargo that passed through PNG ports. About 50% of PNG exports and 90% of coffee exports are handled through Lae. The port also serves a major mine at Porgera in Enga Province, the gas and oil fields in Southern Highlands Province, and three gold mines in Morobe and Eastern Highlands provinces. Lae is also the main hub for coastal shipping to the smaller ports of Kimbe, Kavieng, Rabaul, Madang, Wewak and Kieta. Much of the sweet potato sold in Port Moresby’s urban markets is grown in the highlands and shipped through Lae on coastal ships.

Figure 1 Roads and ports in PNG. Source: PNG Road Asset Management System.

Port development and maintenance has not kept pace with the growth in cargo. Since 1995, container cargo at Lae has grown at 5% per year and general cargo at 2.5% per year. The current cargo volume and vessel types calling at Lae require at least four international berths with a total length of 800 m. Lae has only two berths suitable for international shipping with a total length of approximately 300 m, but the main wharf was being extended in late 2006. The storage and cargo marshalling areas are not sufficient to handle increasing cargo volumes and ship sizes. As a result, port congestion at Lae is frequent and imposes high costs on port users. Delays of 3–5 days have become common and cost international shipping companies about US$20 000 per day. Some companies are refusing to call at Lae and others are considering imposing congestion charges, which will translate into higher costs for importers and exporters (including village coffee growers). Port congestion also poses health and safety problems, and the issue of non-compliance with the International Shipping and Port Security Code. The wharf and shipboard facilities for handling fresh food are poor and much food is lost from damage inflicted during shipping from poor handling and unsuitable containers.

Port Moresby, despite being the capital city and having a magnificent harbour, is a less important sea port than Lae, particularly for agriculture. With no road connections to other regions in the country (Figure 1), exports from Port Moresby are mainly transhipped from coastal ships to international ships. Hence Port Moresby has a number of berths for coastal vessels but only one for overseas vessels. Copper concentrate from Ok Tedi mine is loaded on ships at Kiunga on the Fly River and transhipped to large international ore carriers in Port Moresby harbour. Crude oil from Kikori is loaded at the Kumul Platform in the Gulf of Papua. Some is shipped to the Napa Napa oil refinery in Port Moresby harbour where it is processed for domestic use and export.

Other main ports are:

  • Rabaul. An important port for the export of cocoa and coconut products, with three international berths, one being a bulk coconut oil-loading berth. Rabaul is also an important coastal shipping focus. The 1994 volcanic eruptions did not damage the port facilities, although dredging is required.
  • Madang. An excellent harbour, but with more difficult and less reliable road connection to the highlands and thus overshadowed as a port by Lae. However, if further port development at Lae proves technically too difficult, Madang could be developed to take over some of Lae’s trade.
  • Wewak. Serves East Sepik and Sandaun provinces via the Sepik Highway, but is restricted in the size of ships that can be handled by the depth of water at the single berth.
  • Kimbe. On the north coast of West New Britain Province; is the main palm oil export point. In the last year, volcanoes to the east and west of Kimbe threatened to cause significant disruptions to this coastline, but a major eruption has not yet occurred.

Of the minor ports, Alotau, Kavieng and Oro Bay export palm oil, Lihir services the gold mine in New Ireland Province, and Kieta on Bougainville Island was the main port for the copper mine before the mine was closed by the civil war. Other minor ports include Aitape, Daru, Lorengau and Vanimo (Figure 1).

Maintenance on navigational aids has not been adequate and the situation has become critical. A joint venture project with the Australian Maritime Service began in 2004 to rehabilitate maritime navigation aids. The project will provide more lighthouses, day markers and buoys. The first phase began in Milne Bay and Port Moresby in 2004 and in the Islands Region in 2005.

People in the maritime provinces, such as Milne Bay, are especially dependent on marine transport. The infrequency, unreliability and slowness of domestic shipping in PNG is a major constraint to further
agricultural and fisheries development as well as to delivery of services.

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