Friday, January 11, 2013

A magical journey up the Fly River


Evening along the mighty Fly River, Western province.
It is 9pm on Friday, January 4, 2013, and somewhere along the river, our good ship the mv Sepura comes to a grinding halt.

mv Sepura at Torro Passage, at the mouth of the Fly River.-All pictures@MALUM NALU

I jump out of my comfortable, spacious, air-conditioned cabin, to find out what is going on
Out on the cold, windy deck, the crew tells me that we have run aground on a sandbank – just another day in the life of a Fly River ship – and there is no need to panic.
We are on our way to Sturt Island in South Fly, 100 river miles (160km) from the mouth of the Fly, for the launch of the K19 million cargo and fuel carrier mv Fly Explorer tomorrow, and then another 100 miles further upstream to Obo in Middle Fly for the second launch of Sunday.
I’m dead tired, today being a long day of travelling, and I crawl back into my blankets, but find that I suddenly can’t sleep, and keep on wandering in and out of my cabin.
I flew out of Port Moresby at 1.10pm today with fellow reporters Ancilla Wrakuale from Post-Courier, Fabian Hakalits from EMTV, and Mackhenly Kaiok from Ok Tedi Development Foundation.
We arrived in Daru about an hour later, were met at the airport by OTDF CEO Ian Middleton, and from there it was straight to Daru wharf where we boarded a dinghy for the mouth of the Fly, for a rendezvous with Sepura.
Ok Tedi Development Foundation CEO Ian Middleton, a young and vibrant PNG boy born and bred in Madang, Fabian Hakalits of EMTV, Ancilla Wrakuale of Post-Courier and me heading out of Daru on a dinghy last Friday afternoon for the mouth of the mighty Fly River to begin our 200-mile river cruise.

Twas a glorious Friday afternoon as we sailed up the Fly, all the while mesmerised by the beauty of the river, islands, villages, and, of course, the poetic sunset splashing its golden rays upon this great water way of Papua New Guinea.

Magical sunset along the Fly River last Friday as we cruise upriver on board mv Sepura
Then, a lovely dinner of rice and curried prawns, where you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in some upmarket restaurant, and not a ship heading up the Fly River.
Finally, at 4am on Saturday, January 5, some seven hours later, we come undone from the sandbank and are able to rock and roll & roll up the river again.
A hot shower, breakfast, and everyone is up on deck early to watch the river panorama unfold before our eyes.
Meeting house at in a South Fly village along the mighty Fly River

Captain Noah Mossman, an officer and a gentleman because of his naval upbringing, explains that Fly River boat captains have many natural hazards to deal with, and to take a ship upriver is an art within itself.
“We have to deal with so many things including natural sandbanks, tides,” he tells me.
Captain Noah Mossman in the wheelhouse of mv Sepura

“Sandbanks, such as the one we encountered last night, are things that nature put and we don’t have any control over.
“It’s a nightmare for every captain.
“It was a sandbank we encountered last night, but the tides were not in our favor, which kept us stuck for so long.”
We meet Fly Warrior near Sturt Island and both ships move upstream for the colorful celebrations.
Middleton commended the 156 villages that currently benefit from the Ok Tedi Community Mine Continuation Agreement (CMCA) for their decision to invest in the Fly Warrior.
Fly Warrior near Sturt Island

She is the third vessel after the arrival her two sister ships Fly Hope and Fly Explorer last year.
Apart from the three vessels, the CMCA villagers also have two brand-new Twin Otter aircraft, both of which were delivered towards the end of last year.
“I’m happy because you people of South Fly are happy,” Middleton tells a cheering crowd.
Ok Tedi Development Foundation CEO Ian Middleton addresses the crowd, including children, on Sturt Island
“I’m happy to deliver this vessel, your vessel.
“I’m very pleased, happy, and humbled at the effort you people have shown in accepting this vessel.
“It shows that you are willing to accept change.
Villagers sing to welcome mv Fly Warrior to Sturt Island
“You can create change and you can bring about prosperity in South Fly.”
Middleton explained that their CMCA funds were held in trust development funds and trust investment funds, with all villages having a say in how these monies were used.”
Sturt Island welcome for mv Fly Warrior
“That money is to make investments that go beyond mine life,” he said.
“We have to spend the investment funds as soon as possible so that we can make money for you
“All that money (from investments) goes into your development funds.”
Beautiful Sturt Island
Middleton said in the case of Fly Warrior, the 65m bulk carrier would be on dry hire to Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML), and would be generating a minimum 8% return per annum, and 32% residual,  on a capital investment of K19 million.
“We have secured the vessel on behalf of the CMCA people,” he said.
“It will be on lease to OTML for 15 years.
“The same principle applies to the two other vessels and the planes.
“These investments actually work for your development future.”
After celebrations, we take a look at facilities around the island including OTDF facilities, the steep airstrip, and others.
As the Fly Warrior leaves, the media crew takes a ride on a dinghy to take pictures of her as she makes her maiden voyage up the Fly.

The brand-new K19 million mv Fly Warrior powers up the Fly River
Then it’s back to Sepura, where we say our reluctant goodbyes to Sturt Island and the wonderful people, and we resume our river voyage.
Nothing eventful, as everyone is tired after another long day, but as we are having dinner: “Thud!”
We’ve run aground again!
And so, for the next few hours, as we retire to our cabins, good old Captain Noah Mossman and his officers work on getting us afloat again.
Early Sunday morning, we’re chugging up the Fly, the landscape changing as we hit the massive floodplains of the Fly, which are rich in wildlife.
We see many a deer – a delicacy for the local people – standing on the banks of the river watching us.
Then, the moment I have been waiting for arrives, as we arrive at the point where the Strickland gushes out to meet the Fly.
The confluence of the two great rivers makes me so emotional, however, blame it on the rain, I can’t take good pictures!
A short haul up and we arrive at Obo, Middle Fly, more than 200 river miles up from where we started on Friday.
Here, Western Governor Ati Wobiro and other dignitaries including PNG Sustainable Development Program CEO David Sode and OTML management arrive on one of the new Twin Otters, for the second launching of Fly Warrior.
Twin Otter carrying Western Governor Ati Wobiro arrives in Obo, Middle Fly

That done, the media crew hops on a chopper for a ride across the vast flood plains and Lake Murray, the largest lake in PNG, for Kiunga (where we drop off Sode for his flight back to Port Moresby), while we continue on to Tabubil.
Fly River flood plains, Middle Fly

To think that we have travelled from the mouth of the Fly River near Daru to near its headwaters in the Star Mountains, a journey of over 600 miles (965km), fills me with awe. 
Fly River, Middle Fly

Absolutely magical!
Fly Rivers runs through the river port of Kiunga

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