Papua New Guinea authorities have ordered the evacuation of some 3,000 people from Biem Island amid fears of a volcanic eruption, as the country's Prime Minister directed national resources to neighbouring Kadovar island.
- The Governor of PNG's East Sepik province has ordered 5,000 people be evacuated from three islands
- Volcanologists are unsure whether new reports of seismic activity on Biem island are cause for concern
- The country's Prime Minister has warned people to be ready for a possible tsunami if the Kadovar volcano erupts
Biem Island is only around 12 kilometres west of Kadovar Island, where giant plumes of ash and cloud have forced around 700 people to be evacuated in the past week.
The Prime Minister's office warned tremors from that volcano posed a tsunami risk to the mainland's north coast and surrounding islands — including Biem Island and nearby Ruprup Island, where evacuees from Kadovar had been sent.
A statement from Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said national government agencies had been stood up to respond to the activity on Kadovar Island.
"Volcanoes are very unpredictable, we are hearing various reports that activity has been building up and we need to take all precautions to keep our people safe," the statement said.
"We will not take risks with human lives, let's get people out of harm's way now."
Meanwhile the Governor of East Sepik province, Allan Bird, said military personnel had warned of an "imminent volcanic eruption" on Biem Island.
On the advice he had from experts, Mr Bird said the island is "a time bomb," and ordered its residents to be evacuated.
"We don't know how much time we have, and we just need to get the people off.
"Our priority right now is we're hoping to get all the people off before the volcanos explode, and we have no idea when that's going to happen."
Neither Biem or Kadovar islands have dedicated seismic monitoring technology, so scientists and authorities had been monitoring the volcano from aerial flyovers and satellite imagery.
"There is yellowing of the ocean around the island, which the volcanologists tell me is magma moving up, it is forcing iron to dissolve into the sea water and that is causing the discolouration," Mr Bird said.
Eruption on Biem 'unlikely', says volcanologist
Despite reports of tremors and plumes from Biem Island, volcanologist Steve Saunders said any sort of chain reaction started by the Kadovar activity was "unlikely".
"Reports of hot springs … or sulphur plumes in the sea [near Biem] are probably old thermal springs, they've been there for decades," said Mr Saunders, the Chief Geodetic Surveyor at the Rabaul Volcano Observatory.
"It's just an ongoing situation on the islands, that they've got thermal activity."
The Observatory, which is PNG's national body for monitoring volcanos, was planning to send a team to Kadovar and Ruprup islands in coming days for an official seismic reading.
Mr Saunders said reports of tremors on Biem Island could likely be attributed to the seismic activity on Kadovar, which remained the biggest risk for the region, rather than from the Biem volcano itself.
"There is a potential for it to get more violent than it is at the moment, and if it does become more violent, there's the possibility for tsunami," he said.
Prime Minister O'Neill said he had authorised the deployment of personnel and assets to transfer people in the broader vicinity of the volcano.
Around 5,000 people on three islands to be relocated
Although there was uncertainty surrounding the Biem volcano's activity, authorities in East Sepik were working on moving civilians away from any possible eruption.
Mr Bird said the province had been waiting for the PNG Defence Force to send landing craft to Ruprup Island to begin evacuating people to the mainland, but following the weekend's reports he turned his attention to Biem Island.
He said he had requested a civilian vessel, owned by a Tuna company, to head towards Ruprup Island "so we can try to evacuate both locations concurrently".
Mr Bird said around 3,000 people lived on Biem Island, so officials were facing the prospect of relocating about 5,000 people from the three islands to the mainland.
"We are assuming and expecting the worst-case scenario, which is both volcanos going off," he said.