Women in Maritime cadetship program leads the way in training and diversity


How do you get more qualified women into the workforce in Papua New Guinea? Neil Papenfus, General Manager of marine services business Pacific Towing, talks to Business Advantage PNG about the company’s new cadetship program for women.

Pacific Towing female cadets

Pacific Towing’s cadets. Credit: PacTow

‘I’ve used the expression before that we are helping to feed the nation because, at the end of the day, the product goes where it needs to go,’ says General Manager of Pacific Towing, Neil Papenfus. This is something especially important during PNG’s current COVID-19 state of emergency.

The company, a division of the Steamships Group, offers a range of marine services in PNG’s ports, with its tugs providing around 5000 assists to international and coastal shipping annually.

‘If we are not there, you’d be adding cost on to the vessel. It would have to sit and wait, or not be allowed into port, and ultimately that cost all gets passed on to the end user.’,

The company has operated for more than 40 years. A full member of the International Salvage Union, it employs more than 200 staff, 94 per cent of whom are PNG nationals. The company has a fleet of 25 vessels including 14 tugs and a dedicated dive vessel that supports its hull cleaning service.

‘It is very hard for women to get access to the industry at all, they have hardly any job opportunities and even less opportunity to get trained.’

Pacific Towing is not just diversifying its business interests, it is also a leader in the area of employing women in an industry that is notoriously male-dominated.

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‘It is very hard for women to get access to the industry at all, they have hardly any job opportunities and even less opportunity to get trained,’ Papenfus says. ‘So we started our women’s program and there are now 26 women in the program; they get educated in country which the Australian government pays for and we give them “sea time”.’

Together with program partners (the Australian Government’s Australia Awards and sister company China Navigation Company), PacTow has just finalised the third intake of female cadets for its Women in Maritime scholarship program. The second half of the year will see even more cadetships, which Papenfus describes as ‘training opportunities of a lifetime’ that are offered to young aspiring seafarers in the Solomon Islands and Fiji.

Upskilling benefits everyone

PacTow’s Neil Papenfus. Credit: PacTow

Papenfus sees upskilling his workforce as another way to build a strong business and continue to be a key link in the chain for the manufacturing industry.

‘The cost of doing business here is very high,’ he explains. ‘But the key component of that is being efficient in your service delivery and you can value add through that, and I generally believe that being efficient on that supply chain you are able to cut manufacturers’ costs because the vessel is not waiting.’

PacTow is a 100 per cent PNG-owned marine services business and Melanesia’s market leader.  Headquartered in Port Moresby, but with operations scattered throughout the country, it has separate businesses in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. Towage, mooring, salvage, commercial diving and life raft sales, leasing and servicing are PacTow’s core services.

As PacTow has grown and diversified its product range, so too has it expanded its geographic footprint.

‘Not only do we have businesses established in three countries,’ Papenfus adds. ‘We are increasingly providing our services further afield in the broader regions of Oceania and South East Asia.’

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