The PNG National Court has ordered the US$1.37 billion Ramu Nickel project in Madang to stop work on its controversial Deep Sea Tailings Placement (DSTP) system.
An interim injunction sought by local landowners was granted by Justice David Cannings on March 21 at the Madang National Court, pending substantive proceedings.
The injunction prevents Ramu Nico Management (MCC) from going ahead with its plan to blast a section of the reef and to build the DSTP pipeline.
The order to stop work is a victory for the landowners along the Rai Coast who have been concerned about the effects of dumping millions of tons of waste into the sea.
Also significant is Justice Cannings' decision to allow the landowners to proceed with their case before the courts, although the MCC lawyer had argued that the villagers would be too poor to pay damages should they lose the case.
Justice Cannings said there was a danger that the national court would be closing its doors to the many citizens of PNG if it insisted on adjudging whether plaintiffs were financially capable of meeting all the undertakings that were given, before allowing them to argue a case for an interim injunction.
He said the court should largely be focused on the genuineness of a plaintiff's motives and insisting on an undertaking as to damages was a sufficient way of determining that.
The judge ordered MCC to cease all preparatory or construction work on the deep sea tailings placement system that involved direct or indirect damage or disturbance to the offshore environment, pending a determination of the substantive proceedings.
The judge said: "The defendants and their associates, agents and employees and persons for whom they are jointly or severally responsible shall cease all preparatory or construction work on the Ramu Nickel Mine deep sea tailings placement system, that involves directly or indirectly damage or disturbance to the offshore environment--including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, all coral blasting or popping of dead or live coral and laying of pipes--and shall not carry out directly or indirectly any such work, pending determination of the substantive proceedings'.
The injunction was sought by a Eddie Tarsie, a ward councillor in the Saidor LLG and his ward secretary Farina Siga, landowner Peter Sel, Pommern Incorporated Land Group and its chairman Sama Melambo, through their lawyer Tiffany Nonggorr of Nonggorr William Lawyers.
Justice Cannings told the parties that he was satisfied that there were serious questions to be tried and the plaintiffs had an arguable case.
He was also satisfied that an interim injunction should be granted at this stage.
He said that if that was not done and MCC went ahead and built and operated the DSTP, and later the plaintiffs were to win their case, then damages would be inadequate remedy for the enormous and irreparable damage to the marine environment that may occur.
The judge also said that an interim injunction had to be granted because the plaintiffs were not trying to stop the project but want MCC and other defendants to come up with a more environmentally responsible way of disposing of the mine wastes.
He said while MCC and other individuals would be inconvenienced, the plaintiffs have already filed a number of affidavits from various environmental scientists who have said quite clearly that the proposed deep sea tailings placement system would have substantial negative effects on the marine environment.
Justice Cannings also said the interests of justice would not be served by allowing the construction of the DSTP to continue while serious and apparently genuine concerns had been raised.
He said therefore it was warranted to take the 'safety first' approach. He said while MCC and other defendants assert that it (MCC) had obtained the necessary statutory approvals to construct and operate a deep sea tailings placement system, the plaintiffs concern about the environmental effects of DSTP seem well founded.
He said their claim that they have not been consulted appeared to be genuine. He said they also claimed that an environmental report commissioned by the national government from the Scottish Association of Marine Science had been prepared but yet to be published.
He said it would be dangerous to allow the deep-sea tailings placement system to be constructed without knowing what this recent report concludes.
The injunction effectively delays the construction of the DSTP system which was expected to be completed by March and for the project to be commissioned soon after.
The Ramu Nico project had been dogged by controversies since its commencement because developer MCC had continually failed to consult and inform stakeholders and abide by the laws of the country.
Earlier this year, Madang Governor Sir Arnold Amet had criticised MCC for the way it was handling its obligations towards the people of PNG.
"MCC and the national government should also ensure better consultation with the people who must be well informed of issues that are likely to affect them,' he said.
He said the mine should make it its business to organise a roadshow to inform the people of the environmental impact the mine is creating.
"The people must be of paramount importance to the developer and the state,' he said.
Amet, who was unaware of the proposed coral reef blasting, was angry that the stakeholders like the Mineral Resource Authority, and the Department of Environment and Conservation were not informing the people of their activities.