Concerned islanders from the atolls raised this issue after a boat with seven people on board went missing last month.
President of the Bougainville Atoll Association, Sione Paasia, and his sister Akae, who is the director of the Beach Accounting Advisory Foundation, expressed frustration and concern over a disaster that could have been avoided.
“We’ve got a boat missing, having left Nissan at 5am on the 14th of June,” he said. “Couple of things I note when the boat went missing was that, it was not reported, or the disaster office was not aware, until the evening of Saturday, so that is nearly 36 hours since the boat went missing.”
Sione stressed that boat owners need to be responsible and report such incidents as soon as possible, since the first 24 hours are extremely critical.
Seven passengers were aboard the boat that went missing, including three health workers, a referred patient from Nissan Health Centre and chaperone, and the boat skipper and assistant crew member.
Akae outlined that since the Crisis, health workers have been risking their lives to reach the far flung, outlier atolls of Mortlock, Tasman, Fead, Carteret and Nissan.
“You know a lot of risks that these health workers take, whether it’s by truck or by boat, we want to manage these risks right from the start,” she stated. “If the Bougainville atolls have had a boat, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
One of the health workers that is still missing has been with the Health Department for almost 40 years. And she is the first woman from Tasman Island to join the Health Department.
“She has gone to very remote areas and apart from the mainland, the islands, you have to go by boat, there is no other means of transport. So for her to go missing because of lack of proper transport; it’s very hard for us to swallow.”
The team of health workers had been conducting a regular monitoring trip to Nissan Island as part of the TB/HIV program implemented by the Department of Health.
Meantime, the ABG Disaster Office says it is continuing to coordinate search efforts at this time.
(File picture of the Buka Passage, or locally known as ‘Pasis’)