NOOSA - The population of a second volcanic island in Papua New Guinea's Schouten Group is being evacuated as another volcano erupts.
But East Sepik Governor Allan Bird says his province is running out of fuel and does not have enough boats to manage the evacuation.
"At 1am I was informed that Biem island volcano, as we feared, is now also becoming active. Biem [also known as Bam] is now our priority because there are more than 3,000 people on that island,” he said.
Some 1,500 people on nearby Kadovar Island had been moved to nearby Ruprup Island but these people must be moved again as Ruprup is also at risk from the surrounding volcanic activity which is intensifying.
“I have requested the use of the South Sea Tuna vessel to immediately steam to Ruprup island and begin evacuating our people there,” Governor Bird said.
“We now have two volcanoes erupting concurrently. We are doing our best and deploying all our assets to this effort. I ask the entire nation to pray for mercy so that no life can be lost in this impending disaster and I thank everyone for their prayers.
“We are running out of fuel and we don't have enough boats."
The Kadovar island volcano began emitting smoke and ash last week, prompting the evacuation of more than 500 people. But as eruptions became more violent, those who fled Kadovar had to be taken to the mainland.
Volcanologists said there are no confirmed records of a previous large-scale eruption on Kadovar.
The Wiley Online Library says that there are six volcanic islands running parallel across the Schouten Islands which forms the western end of the Bismarck volcanic arc. The islands are named after Dutch explorer Willem Schouten, who observed an eruption, probably from Biem Island, during his passage through the area in 1616.
Ruprup (also known as Blup Blup) is about 30 km offshore from Cape Girgir with a summit of 402 metres and dimensions of 2 km by 3.5 km. The island is deeply eroded and has a lagoon on the north-west side and a circular drowned crater on the south-west side.
Kadovar is located south of Ruprup and 25 km north of the Sepik river mouth. It has an elevation of 365 metres and is only 1.5 km long and wide. Volcanic activity was reported in the early 1900s and again in 1976, when all residents of the island were temporarily evacuated, although an eruption did not occur.
Biem is the highest of the Schouten Islands at 685 metres and it is 55 km NNE of the mouth of the Sepik River. The island has an oval shape and dimensions of 2.4 by 1.6 km. It consists of the remnants of an older volcano and a younger volcano at whose summit is the active crater.
Biem is one of the most active volcanoes in PNG, with a long record of historical eruptions recorded since 1872. The inhabitants have an oral tradition of a major eruption leading to many deaths and the temporary evacuation of the island possibly in the mid-1800s. Minor eruptive activity in the late 1950s led to another evacuation
Bill Brown MBE has written of the posting of controversial kiap Tom Ellis, then in his early years in the service, to Biem Island as it was about to erupt in 1954:
"Tom Ellis had gone to Bam Island probably only in his second term as a kiap then…. As a new kiap, posted to Madang, he had carried out long, thirty-day patrols in the then uncontrolled Adelberg Ranges with CPO Brian Proctor.
“District Officer C D Bates appreciated Ellis’s ability, but the starchy, upper echelon at headquarters were less forgiving of his earlier career. Recalled from the Sepik to Madang, Ellis was assigned to Bam Island which was rumbling, smoking and threatening to erupt. Ellis spent two to three months on Bam, and hated it."
It must have been a serious misdemeanour for the young Ellis to have been posted to an active volcano.
Meanwhile the Australian government has extended itself by committing $25,000 of humanitarian aid for people evacuated to Ruprup island.
Sources: British Broadcasting Corporation, Special Broadcasting Service, Radio New Zealand International, East Sepik Provincial Government, Wiley Online Library, PNG Attitude