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French cruise ship visits Sepik River in PNG

THE people of Kopar Village on the mouth of the mighty Sepik River were excited to welcome the French cruise ship L’Austral on its maiden voyage to the region.

More than 200 tourists mainly French and about 40 Australians used zodiacs to motor into Kopar where they were met by enthusiastic villagers including three singsing groups and traditionally dressed elementary school children singing the Papua New Guinea national anthem.

L’Austral is part of Ponant Cruises of France with co-owner Captain Lemaire Jean-Philippe leading the land tours to Kopar Village. Kopar villagers were so excited with his visit that they made him an honourary chief of the village.

Capt Jean-Philippe promised to bring his cruise ships back and he appealed to the people to maintain the authenticity of their traditions and cultures.

“Please, keep your traditions and cultures as they are because they are so beautiful,” he said.

Expedition coordinator Justin Friend of Austronesian Expeditions said Ponant Cruises was building four more new cruise ships with one to visit PNG six times a year starting in 2018.

Ground operator Alois Mateos of Sepik Adventure Tours said everything turned out perfectly with all organised activities for the tourists going ahead as planned.

“I am so happy. It was a perfect outcome for all of us especially the tourists,” he added.

Mateos said the highlight was the Sepik River dragon dance and the locals cashing in on huge artefact sales to the tourists. He said Europeans love unique arts and crafts and this was evident in the number of artefacts bought on the day.

Village councillor Thomas Borogam of Ward 17, Marienberg LLG said the villagers had never before seen such direct injection of large amounts of cash in one day.

Borogam said cruise tourism will now become the long term sustainable economic future for his 400 plus people.

“All the singsing groups and everyone involved received a total of K10,000 in cash today from the tour operator. This is not including the sale of arts and crafts. We have never received such as amount before today although previously we have one or two expedition cruise ships visiting in a year,” he said.

Picture: Captain Jean-Philippe with Kopar elementary school children thanking the villagers. Story and picture by Colin Taimbari.
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