By MALUM NALU
Last September, when I was in Kiunga, Western province, for the launch of mv Fly Explorer, I bumped into an old schoolmate of mine at Aiyura National High School, whom I hadn’t seen since 1985.
Jesse Som, from Gassam village on Siassi Island, Morobe province, recognised me from a mile away and called out my name while I didn’t know recognise him at first.
|Captain Jesse Som alongside mv Fly Warrior at Obo, Middle Fly, at its launching on January 6.-Pictures@MALUM NALU|
We were good mates at Aiyura, and being Morobeans, always stuck together.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, we got into talking about everything that had happened to us over the years.
Som, after Aiyura, went on to the Maritime College in Madang and has since become one of the top sea captains of Papua New Guinea, sailing all over the country and the world.
He is now PNG manager for V-Ships, the world’s largest shipping fleet manager, which looks after mv Fly Hope, Fly Explorer, and Fly Warrior for the Ok Tedi Development Foundation.
He even had a clandestine stint on a ship during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, however, doesn’t want to divulge much about that.
Two weeks ago, I was on the Fly River for the launch of Fly Warrior, and I bumped into Som again on the good ship, mv Sepura, which took us up the river from its mouth near Daru.
During our three-day cruise up the river, we had a lot to talk about.
Som will take on added responsibility this year as Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML) will bring in four brand-new ships, worth up to K120 million, over the next 12 months to carry bulk ore out of Kiunga, Western province, as well as bring in general cargo.
Shipping is a vital and strategic component of the OTML supply chain.
Both outbound saleable product and inbound materials essential to the mines’ operation move by sea and river on vessels chartered by OTML.
Following a series of competitive sourcing activities in late 2010, OTML selected a naval architect for design, a shipyard for construction, and a ships manager to operate and maintain four new vessels - vital to its business.
The company pursued an option that was based on the acquisition of vessels jointly by OTML and OTDF, and a ships manager engaged to operate and maintain the vessels on the owner’s behalf.
“The OTML ships coming in, starting in June, are container ship Fly Reliance and bulk ore ships Fly Resilience, Fly Prosperity, and Fly Challenger,” Som tells me.
“They will be coming in between June and September 2013
“Three of them are being built at Batangas Slipway in Philippines, and one is being built at Keppel in Singapore.
“The four OTML ships will replace all the current OTML copper ships belonging to P&O, and Steamships.
“One of them will cost about K30m each,
“Ok Tedi will no longer hire ships from other companies like P&O and Steamships like it has been doing for the last 25 years.
“Ok Tedi’s going to save a huge amount of money by having its own ships.
“It costs about K60m annually use P&O.
“For the last 25 years, it’s been happening like that.
“That’s why I’m passionate about the project because at least we’re giving something back to the people of Western province and PNG.”
Som is a hardened veteran of the mighty Fly River and knows this great waterway of PNG like the back of his hand
“Fly River is the lifeline of the Ok Tedi mine and the rest of the Western province in terms of service delivery,” he says.
“A good understanding of the river means that you can use it to the maximum.
“I have had more than 20 years on the river.
“V-Ships have the advantage with me.
“V-Ships came and found me when I was a manager with P&O Marine Services, managing the Kiunga operations base.”
Som has indeed come a long way since our days at Aiyura as fresh-faced teenagers.
“I started off as a cadet officer to a junior officer,” he recalls.
“After that, I went back to PNG Maritime College for my Masters 3.
“I was part of the delivery crew for the Lutheran Shipping vessel, mv Kuder, in 1991.
“Then I joined Western Tug & Barge as an officer and a deckhand, before it was later bought off by P&O.
“I have had 15 years at sea, from cadet to captain, five years of which I was a captain.
“I was also a lecturer at PNG Maritime College for four years, and then joined Ok Tedi as marine operations manager.
“After that, I went to P&O where they appointed me as marine manager, and then occupational health and safety manager.
“I did my mateship ticket as the Australian Martime College, and my masters at the Sydney Institute of Technology.”
The Fly River will certainly be busy with the three new OTDF vessels and the four new ones for OTML OTML
Likewise, Captain Jesse Som, the man entrusted with looking after these important and expensive assets for the people of Western province and OTML.