Pacific Towing: to succeed in the Pacific think regionally, act locally


Pacific Towing is mirroring its business model in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in Fiji. The company expects to continue its expansion in the Pacific region and is betting in developing local talent to provide solutions for the industry. Sarah Byrne explores.

The Pacific Towing team working at Fiji’s Suva Harbour. Credit: Pacific Towing

Pacific Towing, which specialises in towage, salvage, commercial diving and liferaft services and solutions, has recently completed its first major project in Fiji since entering the country’s market in December 2018.

A team of divers, engineers, welders and a crane operator were engaged in the wreck retrieval of the container ship Southern Phoenix, which capsized and sank in Suva Harbour, Fiji, in May 2017.

Neil Papenfus, Pacific Towing’s General Manager, says it’s the combination of the company’s divers and local workforce that led to the success of the project in Fiji.

‘Our investment in developing a local workforce has been fundamental to our success in Papua New Guinea, and we hope to replicate this in Fiji.’

Partnerships and training

Pacific Towing’s General Manager, Neil Papenfus. Credit: Pacific Towing

Pacific Towing was founded in PNG in 1977 and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Steamships Trading Company.

It has a great opportunity to continue its expansion into Fiji with Suva Harbour expected to have around 26 wrecks, according to Papenfus.

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‘These wrecks are an issue throughout the entire Pacific Region. They impact vessel movement and some wrecks have fuel onboard, which is a hazard,’ he says.

To reduce costs, the company has a partnership with sister company Swire Pacific Offshore, which provides equipment.

Pacific Towing also has a range of partnerships that provides its local workforce with international training opportunities, which Papenfus says has been key to the success of the company.

‘A lot of the innovation is driven by our local team.’

‘We have heavily invested in training our local employees overseas.’

‘This investment has resulted in our employees boasting world-class skills and being innovative and engaged team members,’ he explains.

While employing a local workforce has led to Pacific Towing’s success as an established and stable business in Papua New Guinea, it brings its own set of challenges.

Expertise and innovation

International stakeholders and potential clients often have the expectation that the standard of work and expertise will be lower because the company is based in PNG, Papenfus says.

Encouraging a low hierarchical culture that focuses on professional development has established a team with exceptional expertise and an appetite to innovate.

‘We are planning to build the business in Fiji by mirroring the culture and business model we’ve developed in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.’

A recent innovation, designed and operated by local Workshop Manager Stanley Holland, was successful in removing 2.6 million litres of grey water from cruise ships during APEC held in late 2018.

‘A lot of the innovation is driven by our local team. In the case of APEC, we were able to provide a solution at the last minute when an international contractor let the organisers down,’ he says.


Pacific Towing’s business in the Solomon Islands also boasts a 100 per cent local workforce, which Papenfus says works because of the similar culture the country shares with PNG.

‘We are planning to build the business in Fiji by mirroring the culture and business model we’ve developed in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.’

Transfer of knowledge between the company’s established Papua New Guinean workforce and the local workforce in Solomon Islands and Fiji will be of great value as Pacific Towing expands.

With PNG’s resources sector on the cusp of significant growth, Pacific Towing hopes to be part of the next stage of development

‘We see the company having capacity to add value as the resources sector grows by driving innovation with a local workforce providing solutions for industry,’ he adds.

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