There is no formal order to ensure all domestic ships leave Efate before dark to prevent the spread of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) to other islands, said Senior Legal Officer of the Office of Maritime Regulator (OMR), Lloyd Fikiasi.
While a letter of request was received from the Department of Biosecurity (DoB), Fikiasi said a formal order under any Act that deals with hazardous pests is needed to give more legal weight to the request to minimize the spread of the dangerous coconut pest.
He explained that OMR has issued a circular to shipowners and agents based on the DoB’s request however, there is no punishment for ships that do not comply with the departure time.
“There is no penalty in place to deal with ships that do not comply because it does not relate to our Act in terms of maritime safety and marine environment protection,” he explained.
“That is why we request for a formal order from the DoB.
“As far as OMR is concern, we are just using our good working relationship with shipowners and agents to help with the fight against CRB spread, through the circular.”
Efforts to contain CRB at the incursion site at Mangaliliu in north Efate has not been successful. The beetle has been spotted at areas such as Blandinere, Mele, Bukura, Mele and lately Ifira.
The letter of request which was sent to OMR as the responsible agency looking after all domestic vessels states that Biosecurity officers will be present to inspect all cargoes and ships before leaving Efate once a ministerial order is provided by the minister responsible.
Through its letter, the DoB requested that OMR assist with an instruction for all vessels to turn off all lights at night if they are berthing in Efate and to leave before nightfall so that the beetles do not follow the ships and spread throughout the country.
Senior OMR Legal Officer Fikiasi said many ships have been complying with the circular so far.
We hope this will help the government minimize the CRB spread, he said.
Out of the overall 50 domestic vessels, around 20 are based in Port Vila while the majority are in Luganville.