PNG Marine Services Provider’s COVID-19 Response
Pacific Towing (PacTow) is using its fleet of strategically positioned vessels and 200+ staff to help keep vital food and medical supplies coming in to its home country, Papua New Guinea (PNG). The company also has capacity to further support PNG’s various marine sectors, all key contributors to the economy. Moreover, with COVID-19 severely hampering maritime operations in the region, PacTow has capacity to provide assistance and deliver a range of services outside PNG’s waters.
Like many countries, PNG declared a state of emergency and implemented a lock down seriously restricting international as well as domestic flights and shipping. However, due to the essential nature of PacTow operations the company continues to provide its harbour towage services enabling ships to berth and unload supplies and thus keep the country running. It is estimated that approximately 90 percent of PNG’s food is imported as are up to 100 percent of its medical supplies.
In addition to keeping PNG’s food and medical supply lines open, PacTow has also advised marine service providers that it has vessels and crews available to support them if required. General Manager, Neil Papenfus explains that “operators all over the world are struggling to re-crew because the COVID-19 lockdown prohibits them from flying in their staff. PacTow doesn’t have these re-crewing problems because we have a 94 percent nationalised workforce with the majority of our tugs being crewed solely by Paua New Guineans.”
When asked about PacTow’s capacity to provide services outside of PNG waters, Operations Manager Gerard Kasnari reports that PacTow has been expanding its geographic footprint internationally for nearly 10 years. “We have businesses established in Fiji and Solomon Islands and we have successfully completed ocean towage, salvage and emergency response projects in these countries as well as in Northern Australia, Indonesia and Micronesia.” (At the time of writing, PacTow were part way through an ocean towage project to Guam.)
“Of course COVID-19 places some restrictions on our operations and we’ve made numerous changes and introduced risk controls so that we don’t compromise the health and safety of our crew, our clients or our communities” emphasises Kasnari. With only two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in PNG at time of writing, companies like PacTow had additional time in comparison to those in other countries to prepare for the pandemic.
World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations were taken on board and new procedures and guidelines implemented. Senior managers from PacTow worked with regulatory authorities to ensure that tugs and additional staff could be deployed to the most significant PNG ports. “These tugs and additional staff will prove critical if there is a breakdown or an emergency” explains Kasnari. “PacTow has a long history of emergency response, including saving lives and vessels, as well as cleaning up oil spills.”
Kasnari reports that PacTow has new procedures in place to specifically safeguard the health of its crews. “We have new cleaning and disinfecting protocols for example and staff can no longer take shore leave. Likewise, all non-essential visitors are banned from our worksites, vessels and accommodation facilities. We’ve also introduced a range of measures to keep our crew safe when it comes to transferring persons such as Customs and Quarantine staff or marine pilots. Some of these measures include social distancing, not allowing the transferred persons inside the tug, and no longer letting them use PacTow lifejackets.” PacTow has also converted its decommissioned tug ‘Koranga’ as its designated Isolation Unit in the event that any of its crew contract COVID-19.
“PacTow is in a more fortunate position than many other businesses in this time of crisis” says Papenfus. “As an essential service that helps the country keep running we are still able to operate and we are not laying off staff. Also, we will potentially see an increase in business if other marine services operators in the region struggle with their crewing and vessel deployment thus requiring outside assistance.”