DESPITE the impact of COVID-19, the maritime sector continues to provide vital services through south-east Asia and Oceania. An example is the recent towage by Pacific Towing of a vessel and crane barge to Guam.

The towage project was significant not just because it occurred in the midst of the region’s COVID-19 lock-down but because it was the first time in its 42 year history that Pacific Towing had one of its vessels in American waters.

The tandem tow of offshore supply vessel MV Marianas Voyager and a crane barge from the PNG Dockyard in Port Moresby on 18 March to Guam’s Apra Harbour on 1 April necessitated a 3825 NM (7,084km) round trip. Onboard the tug Pacific Salvor were a PNG crew of 12 including Captain Lepan Maluira as well as two cadets from the ‘Women in Maritime’ scholarship program.

The main challenges of the project were not the weather conditions or the technicalities of a tandem tow, which included a less than streamlined, 65-metre crane barge.  Instead, the key challenges were largely administrative due to the strict United States maritime regulatory requirements for Guam and that these were exacerbated by COVID-19.

“It is a very big deal to get a PNG flagged and classed vessel in to a United States port. It hasn’t happened for a long time” PacTow’s Gerard Kasnari said.

“The US Coast Guard’s enforcement of maritime rules and regulations are extremely high.

“It took the PacTow team a lot of effort to ensure that the vessel and crew were properly prepared and in full compliance with all regulations in terms of lifesaving, fire-fighting, and pollution prevention.

“Furthermore, we had to provide our COVID-19 plan to the Guam authorities before the Pacific Salvor could depart PNG,” Mr Kasnari said.

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The Department of Transport issued PacTow with an International Ship Security Certificate, a critical requirement for getting in to Guam. The Pacific Salvor is the first PNG tug to ever achieve this level of certification and PacTow is now embarking on securing certification for several other tugs in its fleet with open ocean towage capability.

Although not as much a challenge as getting in to Guam, the return trip to PNG was not all smooth sailing. Mr Kasnari recalls, “we were initially supposed to clear quarantine in Rabaul but were re-routed to Madang due to PNG recording its first case of coronavirus and Rabaul being locked down to all incoming vessels”.

Pacific Towing liaised directly with the State of Emergency Controller who gave them the necessary clearances.

“Things didn’t go strictly to plan on the way home but with the help of the various agencies it was without a doubt an extremely successful international towage project and we’re greatly appreciative of everyone’s support,” Mr Kasnari said.

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