Papua New Guinea has never had an oceans policy.
What’s more concerning is that this challenges the country in passing laws that govern any development at our oceans on oil exploration, mining or fisheries to name a few.
Secretary for the Department of Justice and Attorney General Dr Eric Kwa made these opening remarks in Port Moresby yesterday when introducing a three day National Oceans Forum.
At the end of the forum, participants who include University of Papua New Guinea professors, provincial participants, statutory organisations, NGO’s and justice and attorney general staff would have to come up with a National Oceans Policy.
A subsequent forum is to be held after a month’s time to firm up the policy and eventually present to Cabinet for endorsement.
The forum was timely when the country is faced with unprecedented developments at our oceans like the recently announced Pasca LNG development-100 km south of Gulf Province, the Basamuk slurry spill in the Madang Province and the now failed (liquidated) Solwara 1 under sea mining project in New Ireland.
“There is no clear direction by the government since independence about how we are going to manage these very important resources,” he said.
“These kinds of project are happening without a very clear policy.”
Mr Kwa said with the Pasca project, there was the notion that the project was far from usual fishing reefs for people and so it could be fast tracked bypassing landowners but there could be possible contentions to it if there was a clear policy and an understanding of the delimitation’s of ocean boundaries.
“Most of us just go fishing or passing through vessels where as actually the ocean has been divided into different zones,” he said.
“We’ll talk about international waters, the territorial waters, the contiguous zones, and the economic exclusion zones.”
Parliament passed the Maritime Zones Act in 2015 which essentially explained the different boundaries of the sea which were the 12 nautical miles territorial waters, 24 nautical miles contiguous waters and 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zones.
There is a catch to this Act though- it was not preceded with a policy and Dr Kwa stressed: “Here we have a law, but we needed to be guided by a policy.”
“In making law we say, the law follows policy.”
He said discussions must not be limited to developing ocean resources but, extended to conservation and sustainable use.