The maritime operations element of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force staged an open day on Friday 28 November 2014, as part of their 40th year anniversary.
The open day was an opportune time for the public to get insight on the operations and functions of the PNGDF Navy.
Coming into being in January 1973, the unified forces of the country – the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) originated from the Australian Army land forces (before independence) of the territory of Papua New Guinea; having its antecedents in the Pacific Islands Regiment.
The PNGDF naval branch was established in 1974 and is responsible for defending PNG’s local waters. The PNGDF Navy has three primary roles which include the support for military operations, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) protection and heavy logistical support for the army and civil society.
The anniversary brought to light the dire needs of the maritime operations element of the PNGDF, to receive adequate funding, upgrading, and maintenance.
Chief Petty Officer, Philip Makoan says, going forward they want the government to seriously look at their [PNGDF Navy] needs.
The Navy suffers from equipment shortages and underfunding; with the majority of its equipment in need of urgent maintenance and repair. Because of this, the naval force is unable to effectively, and efficiently carry out its roles and more so, have their maritime operations either delayed or cancelled as a consequence.
The downsizing in 2005 has also affected the capacity of the navy in carrying out its duties.
Captain Max Aleale commands the PNGDF Navy which is comprised of approximately 200 personnel.
The issue of the relocation of the naval base to Gavuone village in the Marshall Lagoon area of the Abau District of Central Province is a sour subject for some navy personnel. Gavuone is 81 miles (130km) south east of Port Moresby.
The navy personnel said that the current location is strategic, as it is close to vital government assets like the Bank of PNG and the Oil Refinery, among others.
They are concerned that relocating the naval base would “limit their reaction if these national assets come under criminal attack”.
The navy’s explosive ordinance disposal unit also require urgent attention; so as the crew onboard HMPNGS Seeadler who expressed their concerns on their incapacity to operate on high seas. They said that in order to effectively carryout sea surveillance they needed a much bigger vessel and with only 20 personnel onboard per ship, manpower shortage is a growing concern.
The PNGDF navy’s patrol craft are barely effective and with added fuel costs and maintenance problems, most times only one boat is available for maritime duty at any time. Furthermore, the heavy landing craft have high upkeep costs and have just about reached the end of their service life and so should be replaced; when and how is the biggest concern for Navy personnel.
Although at times, the patrol boats may seem serviceable, patrolling Papua New Guinea’s large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is too great a task, considering the overall state of the PNGDF Navy.
Many at times they rely heavily on information about the presence of foreign ships supplied by US satellite surveillance in daily reports.