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Pomio People Left with Few Options Getting to Kokopo

Since the Rabaul Queen disaster that claimed 200 lives, many travellers have been wary of sea travel with many more opting not to travel at all.

Those who have a choice, travel by plane.

But for people who live in Pomio, the far western side of the East New Britain Province, there are only a few options. Twice a week, a ferry operated by R & A Shipping Service travels to Pomio. It is relatively cheap and easy.

It’s either that or a harrowing six-hour trip on open sea on a banana boat.

Since the Rabaul Queen disaster, shipping companies have become stricter. On this trip, cargo is weighed. The number of passengers checked in according to the vessel capacity.

Inside, a safety briefing done by the deckhand, outlines everything a passenger should know in the event of an emergency.

Passenger shipping used to be big in the 80s and 90s. Lutheran Shipping in Lae was a dominant force over four decades, servicing the Momase region, Oro, Milne Bay and in one instance, the New Guinea Islands region.

That era is now gone.

The void has been filled by smaller companies travelling shorter routes. But safety has become central to the operations of those smaller companies as well.

For the Pomios, there has never been any real effort to build a road connecting Palmalmal, the district headquarters to the provincial capital – Kokopo.

Accidents out at sea are common. A few months ago, several passengers traveling from Pomio to Kokopo went missing. They have since not been found.

As the passengers and crew savour the simple pleasures of reeling in tuna, Ignatius, who runs a guesthouse in Pomio, said the distance between Pomio and Kokopo and the cost of travel leaves them with little option but to travel by boat.

On this trip alone, he spent close to K2,000 to transport his family of five. While there has been much talk about the importance of oil palm in Pomio and the benefits of such a project, the lack of political will to build an important road link has left the Pomio people relatively cut off from Kokopo.

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