Due to inadequacies of the road network and the expensive air services, sea transportation remains the most practical means of servicing the coastal and island locations. There are scheduled passenger ships that run between Lae, the Momase and the islands region. There are also scheduled passenger services between Bougainville and the islands.
According to 2003 data, the inland waterways are thought to amount to some 10,940 km. Under the National Transport Development Plan 2001-2010, the main aims were to:
- Fund the economically feasible costs of maintenance, rehabilitation and construction of maritime facilities and the improvement of Navaids and boat services.
- Establish a sustainable program to maintain the existing transport infrastructure such as ports, wharves and jetties, ramps, landing areas, pontoons and warehouses.
- Ensure that half the total expenditure in water transport is devoted to maintenance of facilities and assets.
Just as for roads, budget allocations have not kept pace with needs. There is a substantial backlog to be dealt with.
With its dispersed population, Papua New Guinea’s coastal shipping services takes on special significance in providing access to rural communities. Innumerable small wharves, jetties and beach landings provide the basic infrastructure for maritime services, but the majority of these is in poor condition and carries very little traffic.
The ports serving Port Moresby, Lae, Madang, Kimbe, and Rabaul carry international and coastal traffic and have a reasonable level of infrastructure, but lesser ports, ranging from those at Wewak, Kavieng, Oro Bay and Alotau to mere timber jetties and beach landings, provide only a basic service for coastal traffic and are often unusable in bad weather. Many landings involve loading and offloading over the ship’s side from/to small village “banana” boats and canoes. Madang, serving many small coastal vessels, and Kimbe, serving agricultural exports, are the most frequently visited ports, but Port Moresby, Lae and Rabaul handle the most cargo; most imports pass through Lae and Port Moresby.
Lae is the main import/export point for the populous Highlands region, the goods moved from/to the port by road. Annual throughput by the major ports has been growing at about the rate of population growth with import/export tonnages (increasingly containerized, but also including a growing logging trade) accounting for about a third of the total and most of the growth. Passenger cruise visits have started to grow, albeit from a low base. Coastal passenger operations are significant between the larger centers like Lae, Madang, Kimbe, Kavieng and Buka, but recent falls in traffic have led to some service reductions. Community-based services also extend to many smaller coastal villages, often in small, open, over-loaded craft operating over stretches of open sea without safety facilities or navigation aids.
Coastal services are of several types provided by: primary shipping lines, with scheduled or semi-scheduled services mostly focusing on the major ports; secondary shipping lines, also providing scheduled or semi-scheduled services to a mix of large and small ports; specialized, smaller and often regional shipping companies providing specific services to industry, including charters; operators of small commercial craft providing general goods and passenger services; community based organizations providing semi-commercial services mostly for their own members; and subsidized provincial government services.
For the most part, even between Port Moresby and Lae, the coastal routes are poorly-equipped with navigational aids (Navaids). The Fly River and its estuary is an exception; there, Navaids are maintained by private mining and oil companies. Elsewhere, local companies and community groups operate largely without charts or Navaids and rely on the local knowledge and skills of their ships’ masters. Sudden storms, mangrove swamps, shifting mud and sand banks and floating obstructions make journeys hazardous. Simple, low-cost Navaids would significantly reduce the risks involved.
Sea Transport Routes
To Provincial Ports
- Lae, HUB
- Port Moresby
- Oro Bay,
The Community Water Transport project
The Community Water Transport Project is engaged (inter alia) in establishing and supervising the operation of subsidized transport services by water to remote communities that do not currently have adequate cash incomes to support fares for transport at the level of full operating cost recovery. A scheme of voluntary commercial contracts between the Government of PNG and private shipping operators to provide subsidized shipping has been devised and is being established in phases.
The phase 1 franchises, let in 2009 for a period of 3 years, consist of the following routes:
- Sepik River in East Sepik Province
- Huon Coast of Morobe Province and Oro Province
- South Coast of East and West New Britain
- South East Coast of New Ireland
- Ramu River in Madang Province
- Western Province
Depending on the success of these initial franchises and also the funding generated by the Community Water Transport Trust Fund, supplemented by GoPNG budgetary appropriations, a second and subsequent phases may be possible. Routes to be served in the second phase of franchises would be expected to cover additional remote communities that were not included in Phase 1.