Turning the tide: Papua New Guinea’s coastal shipping sector finds its voice


The PNG Coastal Ship Owners Association has had a revamp and it has a new aim: to make sure coastal shipping gets the attention it deserves. New Chairman of the Association, James Midgley, talks to Business Advantage PNG.

Credit: Consort Express

Papua New Guinea’s coastal shipping operations play a vital role delivering important freight in an island nation where road infrastructure can be a challenge and air transport expensive, and this is particularly true during the upheaval of COVID-19.

‘You realise how vulnerable you are when your imports are disrupted,’ Chairman of the PNG Coastal Ship Owners Association and Managing Director of Pacific Project Logistics, James Midgley, tells Business Advantage PNG. ‘Things like locally-produced foodstuffs become really important and keeping that food moving around the country is what is sustaining us in PNG.’

Credit: Bismarck Maritime

With 80 per cent of PNG’s provinces being coastal – whether it’s transporting fresh produce from the Highlands to Port Moresby, or transferring internationally imported plant and equipment to mining companies – coastal shipping is often the only transport option. But the sector hasn’t always had a united voice.

‘The voice of the coastal ship owner community has been idle for quite a few years,’ admits Midgley. ‘Our rules of association have a date of 1985.’

‘If you give a problem to the industry they will usually come up with a solution, we can collaborate and come up with some pretty creative ideas.’

But 2020 saw an overhaul of the association, with new members representing an array of ship owners as well as shipping industry entities. They include AGMARK, Coastal Shipping Company, Consort Express Lines, Ok tedi Mining, Pacific Project Logistics, Pacific Towing, P&O Maritime, R&A Marine Services, Smit Lamnalco, South Sea Lines and Svitzer.

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Getting their voice back

Lae Port. Ports are an essential element of PNG’s trade competitiveness.

Midgley says the new association seeks to work more closely and effectively with government departments like National Maritime Safety Authority, Transport, Petroleum & Energy, Mining and PNG Ports. He hopes that with greater transparency and cooperation the industry can tackle issues like skills shortages and how it can help grow PNG’s economy.

‘If you give a problem to the industry they will usually come up with a solution, we can collaborate and come up with some pretty creative ideas,’ he says. ‘We would like to open the door and talk about our challenges’

The new chair recognises there is a lot of work to do including working with a range of other stakeholders including stevedores, agents, custom clearance agents, brokers, transport companies, port operators, training institutions and unions for the purpose of developing our industry, including a specific focus on safety, training standards, gender equality and efficiency.

But for now he is happy to make sure the industry gets a seat at the table.

‘We need to get to the point we are a welcome voice and an expected voice,’ he says. ‘I think if we open up the doors with departments like energy and mining we are going to get to a point where the industry’s major clients can come and talk to us and everything will be tabled so the rules of engage with business become clear.’

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