AUSTRALIAN ports did well to withstand the challenges of the initial onslaught of COVID-19, the International Harbour Masters Association Congress has heard.

Originally to have been held in Hobart, the conference was instead in online format.

A panel session with the theme of Didn’t See that Coming discussed issues relating to COVID-19 and was addressed by Port of Melbourne marine manager Captain Arun Rampal, Port Authority of New South Wales harbour master Sharad Bhasin and was chaired by Yoss Leclerc of Quebec Port Authority.

 Captain Rampal talked about how the pandemic was initially “very challenging” and necessitated a stakeholder engagement plan.

“There were a lot of disruptions earlier in the [pandemic]. For us we were lucky as we had a good stakeholder engagement plan with essential services providers like the pilots, the mooring crew and the stevedores,” he said.

“In the initial stages it was very challenging as we couldn’t get this stuff.

“We had to leverage our relationship with the government to prioritise and keep the port open. We could at least be an essential service.”

Captain Bhasin said PA NSW also started developing stakeholder engagement plans in late January.

Panel speakers at the IHMA Congress. Credit: IHMA and Informa

As the pandemic took effect, he noted the challenge of continuing to operate while a public health order was in place involving strict.

While the situation in New South Wales has eased, Captain Bhasin said the situation remained “fluid” and they had to remain prepared to deal with further outbreaks.

Captain Rampal also talked about the importance of mental health for staff, with initiatives encouraging staff to call one another during lockdown.

He also spoke of some of the challenges dealing with both state and federal rules and guidelines.

The IHMA Congress was organised by Informa.