Plane thief alert

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Solomon Islands warned of tricky deals to restore World War II relics

By Gary Hatigeva

THE Solomon Islands government and its people have been warned not to deal with a foreign War Relic Restoration Company, “Warbird Restoration Pty Ltd” that is currently in the country in an attempt to salvage old world war planes, in exchange for doubtful dollar.

Following revelations of the company’s intents in the Solomons after lying to his own people, in an open letter to Solomon Islands, Governor of Oro Province in the northern region of Papua New Guinea, Gary Juffa, shared that his letter was to warn the people so they don’t get tricked by this company like they did to the people of his province.

“It has come to my attention that a foreigner, Mr Robert Greinert has come to your country to remove war relics – the Betty bombers of Ballale Island. He and his company ‘Warbird Restoration Pty Ltd’ is not to be dealt with,” the Oro Provincial Governor warned in his letter.

He shared that in Papua New Guinea, this same person, Mr Robert Greinert and his company was responsible for removing dozens of planes from his country and province, for little or no benefit, and this he feared will happen again to the vulnerable rural people of Solomon Islands.

Meanwhile, the Governor added that Greinert and his group were able to remove their most famous intact plane wreck, a B-17 known as “Swamp Ghost”, which he did not pay for a single cent to landowners.

“Today, this plane is in the United States in Hawaii in a large museum and PNG, Oro Province and the landowners got nothing for a world attraction! I saw it myself with my own eyes and confronted the museum’s director,” Governor Juffa stated in his letter.

“Therefore, the People of the Solomons beware! Unless if you are receiving millions of dollars for these wrecks – upfront. I do not advise you sell them! Be wary of any leaders that are supporting a plan that is clearly wrong.

“These war relics are best left on your islands in your sea, that way foreigners will come to you to see them and pay the landowners, stay in your community guest houses and support your region,” he added.

He then reminded and called for people not to strike a single agreement or deal with Mr Greinert and his company, because they are not genuine as they may seem.

This issue has also attracted widespread concerns after it was posted on local online forums, prompting calls on the Solomon Islands government particularly, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism which is responsible for the implementation of the laws and regulation guiding war relics in the country, to take action and ensure that this company is looked into if it has already made some approaches.

In Solomon Islands, war remains especially relics are state owned, and therefore the government through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has the final say in terms of approvals for removal or even for the purpose of refurbishments, so as approvals for export.

A follow-up with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism reveals and confirmed that the individual (Mr Robert Greinert) was in the country through a locally registered company, and had used it (company) to push his intention with the ministry to salvage relics from one of the country’s known historical islands in the Shortlands.

This is something that got many, including the Oro Province Governor worried, stressing that the restoration company will get millions from these tourism resources in the international market, while the country and those people whose lands host these relics, lose out big time.

Speaking to Permanent Secretary of the Ministry on this, Andrew Nihopara confirmed his ministry had in its records a project under this locally registered company, which is facilitating on behalf of the same individual who had similar relics removed from PNG, which according to the Governor, had left landowners waiting almost forever, on payments that was promised to them.

When asked about the revealed information, PS Nihopara said he was aware of what had happened in PNG, and confirmed that he is here in Solomon Islands on a mission, with intentions to recover and remove the Betty Bomber for refurbishment or restoration overseas.

The Tourism PS however stressed that regarding the highlighted matter, he had only just recently confirmed that the individual highlighted is also the same person implicated in the PNG Governor’s statement.

“The ministry is fully aware of the intentions and will be working through all the issues surround such interests to ensure that whatever happened in Oro Province of PNG will not happen to the Solomon Relics,” the PS explained.

As for the current situation, PS Nihopara revealed that a suspension notice for the salvaging operation has been issued to those involved.

The PS further explained that the suspension is purposely to give the government time to assess the interest by the foreign company, and to accommodate all the concerns raised by all the parties that are involved, including the Shortland landowners and the concerned public.

Nihopara then clarified that in any case, the Protection of Wreck and Relic Act (cap. 150), which is the law governing such interests, will be thoroughly used to guide the decision that the government will take on this case, in collaboration with the Attorney Generals Chamber.

It was further reiterated by the PS that the legislation highlighted is intended to protect the World War II relics in the country, and that is why the suspension notice was served on the current project to ensure that the protection mechanisms are applied in this particular case.

The company’s dealing in Papua New Guinea had also made international news headlines after the matter got surfaced, and 60 Minutes Australia, was able to cover this story in an episode under the name, “Plane Wrong” that detailed this struggle.

And if you are an online user and wish to see the coverage by 60 Minutes Australia of how it happened in PNG, it can be watched on YouTube, with the links provided in a two parted series, Part 1; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUKfT7pOKHEPart and Part 2; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNOUQlxJFsk

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