Papua New Guinea’s Collins Shipping teams up with Chinese explorers to take adventurers 11,000 metres below sea level

Welcome,

The search for new business avenues sees Port Moresby’s Collins Shipping teaming up with Chinese maritime researchers to do a voyage to the bottom of the sea. And there’s the prospect of a new adventure tourism activity. Kevin McQuillan reports.

Collins boat1

One of Collins Shipping’s four research vessels. Credit: Ness Kerton/madNESS photography

A 2012 expedition by Hollywood director James Cameron renewed our fascination for what lies at the bottom of the sea. An inveterate explorer, Cameron made a solo dive to 10,908 metres in the Mariana Trench, near Guam—and made a 3D film about it.

Now, such an adventure may become more widely available. In late July, a Chinese-led expedition, Rainbow Fish Ocean Technology Company, will test a new manned submersible vehicle in the New Britain Trench off PNG. It is 9149 metres deep and lies between PNG and the Solomon Islands.

 

Adventure tourism

The Rainbow Fish body

The Rainbow Fish body

A key player in the July tests will be PNG’s Collins Shipping, which will ferry Chinese scientists and tourists in a parallel tourist operation, starting in Alotau and finishing in Lae.

The tour will take in some of PNG’s tourist attractions, such as the Dei Dei Hot Springs, the Trobriand Islands and the remote Star Reefs.

Along the way, the tourist vessel will rendezvous with the Rainbow Fish vessel for dives to 300 metres in a submarine.

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Managing Director, James Collins, tells Business Advantage PNG that if the July expedition goes well, an opportunity for new adventure tourism will open up.

Staff training

Collins Shipping has a staff of 30. All are PNG locals and all have been recruited from the industry or the Madang Maritime College. James says the College is long established and well resourced.

‘The mock engine room and mock wheel house are as good as what you’d find at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania.’

Like all shippers in PNG, Collins Shipping pays a levy to run the maritime colleges. They sponsor young men, some of them sons of existing staff, to go to either of the colleges.

Shift to tourism

The downturn in PNG’s mining industry meant James and his brothers, Tony and John, turned to their tourism background and connections. The aim was to adapt to a potentially lucrative, and unique, new adventure.

‘Only three people have so far ventured to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. More people have stood on the moon.’

‘In 2006 and 2007, we spent some of our down time working with John Sinclair of Go Bush Safaris who’d asked us to run two charter tours from Cairns to Cape York,’ says James. ‘None of the local Cairns businesses would do the job. But when we tried for a third trip the rules had changed and, because we weren’t registered in Queensland, we couldn’t run the tour.

‘So John suggested we run adventure expedition cruises up here. The first went from Alotau with 20 people. It went up the north coast and on to the Sepik River to Wewak and those people would then fly back to Port Moresby and we would do a reverse trip with passengers who’d flown into Wewak. We did three years of that. Then, the mining work got so busy, we had to forgo the tourism work.’

James says the first group will bring a submersible with them, as seen in David Attenborough’s recent Great Barrier Reef documentary. ‘The tourists will transfer from our vessel and take turns doing a dive in the submersible, which will take the operator and two tourists on a two-hour dive down to 300 metres.’

Trials

‘We are planning on doing the dives at a WWII ship wreck in the Star Reefs. The tourists will be able to follow the wreck from the surface down to 45 metres and then follow the reef down into the depths.

‘It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and only available to celebrities, or the super wealthy, at the moment,’ he says.

‘Should that go well, we will upgrade our biggest ship, the Sepura, with cabins and ensuites to accommodate 28 people. We’re hoping we can run eight to 12 night cruises a year.’

If the roll-out proves successful the plan is to team up with Rainbow Fish and offer tourist dives to the deepest parts of the oceans. Only three people have so far ventured to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

More people have stood on the moon.

A famous trading family

 John, Tony and James Collins (l-r). Credit: Ness Kerton/madNESS photography

John, Tony and James Collins (l-r). Credit: Ness Kerton/madNESS photography

The Collins brothers have considerable pedigree when it comes to business. Their uncle Michael Leahy led the first European expedition into the Highlands. Their nephew Dan teamed up with his cousin Edgar Collins to form the trading company Collins and Leahy, which employed 2500 people and was involved in trading, hotels, property, timber, steel, automotive and industrial services before being sold to Steamships Ltd in 2005.

The brothers established Collins Shipping in 2004 with one ship, a former pearl mother vessel, Miss Rankin.

‘We grew up on a coffee plantation in Mount Hagen,’ James says. ‘We have trading in the blood.

‘My older brother, Tony, had set up a dive company in Madang in the late 1990s, and he used to taunt me that he was sitting on his boat sipping a beer after a trip while I was in Bulolo in a trading store, holding off raskols and dodging gunshots. Eventually, I had enough of that.

‘More by chance rather than direct planning, we ended up with ships suitable for research work.’

‘So I went and joined him at Blue Sea Dive Charters, which we rolled into Collins Shipping when dive charters slowed down and mining support work took off.

‘We then moved into hiring our boat out for mining exploration support work. Activities like bathymetric surveys, community liaison work, cartography and environment baseline, working from Lihir to Ok Tedi. We started off with one boat and now we have four.

‘More by chance, rather than direct planning, we ended up with ships suitable for research work. A lot of our initial work was based up the Fly River and then the Sepik River, so three of the vessels are flat-bottomed and proved ideal for river work.’

Comments

  1. MARK ERNEST YOUNG says

    HI JOHNIE, JAMIE AND TONY .
    I WAS VERY HAPPY TO SEE YOU THREE BROTHERS NOW GROWN UP AND DOING SO WELL IN SHIPPING .I WAS YOUR DADS FIRST MANAGER ON TIGI PLANTATIONS MT HAGEN ; I HAVE WRITTEN TWO BOOKS ON PNG NAMELY TIGI AND GUMANCH .I KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR DEAR MUM ANN.MY BROTHER IN LAW HAS A SHIPPING IN LONDON AND IS A MEMBER OF THE BALTIC EXCHANGE .PLS KEEP IN TOUCH
    TAKE CARE AND GOD BLESS MARK ERNEST YOUNG
    MY PH NUMBERS +91 8861427498 +91 9880383770 and + 91 9945161371

  2. Peter Smith says

    I’ve been on two PNG trips with the Collins brothers and they know how to look after their guests with their vast local knowledge. Fresh fish is a regular dish as well as other local produce. They are prepared to venture off the beaten track. After exploring the Fly River we explored a community in the estuary where an enterprising missionary had built a hydro electric scheme as well as a school which was thriving. He was fortunate as his predecessor had been eaten! Later, we played cricket with the Trobriand Islanders with their unique war cries before venturing up the Sepik River. What’s on the 2017 program, James?

  3. Steve Martin says

    First class in every respect.

  4. Eric Kranz says

    I’ve been on a few of the Collins’ boats and I can say that they are first class. James and the crew are experts at what they do.
    Eric Kranz, Sydney

  5. GO DAD/TONY

  6. Lorraine Collins says

    A must do, bucket list opportunity.

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