By ISAAC NICHOLAS - thenational
Nautilus Minerals had obtained national government approval to begin deep sea mining off the coast of New Ireland and East New Britain.
Namatanai MP Byron Chan and the provincial government have joined forces with the West-coast Central Seabed Mining Landowners Association to fight for benefits from the mining operations.
Landowner representatives including chairman Benson ToMarum, secretary Eugene Pasmet and technical adviser Roboam Paka and Chan held a joint media conference in Port Moresby last Friday to announce the legal challenge.
“We will make an application to the Supreme Court in Kokopo for an interpretation of the Mining Act,” Paka said.
He said the current memorandum of agreement has three signatories, which is the state, the developer and the two provincial governments of East New Britain and New Ireland.
“We have engaged lawyers to go to court to seek interpretation whether we can claim ownership of the sea.”
Paka said villagers, who used the ocean area to be mined for food, had not been consulted, simply because the Mining Act was not clear on the sea aspect.
“We want the seaowners to be part of the MoA and pre-project financing be enjoyed by the locals.”
Paka said the rights of landowners to fish and visit their sacred sites out at sea must be protected.
“The state has resolved that we are not owners of the sea.
“The state seems to think that ownership ends at the waterfront,” he said.
Paka said the people had a long association with the sea around the St George Channel through fishing and sacred shark-calling activities.
“Our cultures are linked to the sea and we want that to be addressed in the MoA.”
Chan said four main issues were equity, mining facilities and operations, seaowners being part of the MoA and pre-project financing.
“We are taking the matter to court for legitimacy of the current Mining Act to ensure the rights of our people are protected,” he added.