I just purchased the game about a month ago and haven't have any such lock ups. I do seem to recall that that section did take some time to load though. My PS2 is only about 7 months old so it's likely the same series as yours.
Interesting enought I had a similar problem with Crimson Skies on the XBox trying to load saved games; after 3 exchanges at EB I finally gave up. I then bought the game again about 1 1/2 years later and it loaded saves without a hitch?? Go figure!