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"Close calls" in Pago Harbor with only one tugboat operating

USCG issues final waiver for use of only one tugboat at Port of Pago Pago

The US Coast Guard has issued the third and probably the final waiver to the Port of Pago Pago — allowing the use of one tugboat — while ASG's Port Administration Department has secured for purchase, a second tugboat in the US .

Despite the Coast Guard waiver, serious concerns remain amongst lawmakers and others in the community over the use of one tugboat, the Sailele, for Pago Pago Harbor especially when oil tankers and cruise ships call into port.

And there have been at least “two close calls involving tank vessels,” in the harbor, according to a Coast Guard letter to Port Administration. This has further raised concerns from lawmakers, as ASG is liable if something serious happens in port.

The Port of Pago Pago — which comes under the jurisdiction of the US Coast Guard Captain of the Port Honolulu, headed by USCG Capt. Michael C. Long — was first issued a waiver for use of one tugboat in Oct. 28, 2016.  Long issued a second waiver, effective Sept. 1, 2017 for a 10-week extension, permitting single tug operations until Nov. 15th, 2017. (See Samoa News Sept. 25th edition for details.)

Responding to Samoa News questions, Honolulu-based Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Scott Carr said Port Administration sent a letter to the Captain of the Port on Nov. 22 as well as a follow up email earlier this week to inform the Coast Guard that they are making progress in the purchase of a towing vessel and have narrowed down the search to one vessel.

At last week’s cabinet meeting, Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele said she has received word from deputy director, Chris King, who is in Louisiana with Capt. Mike Pulu, that a tugboat has been identified and the next step now is purchasing the vessel.

Thereafter, it will probably take four weeks to prepare to sail and a crew should also be dispatched from here to bring the tugboat home, she said, adding that it’s been a year since the Coast Guard issued the first waiver allowing the use of one tugboat.

Under Coast Guard regulations, there should be two tugboats to bring vessels such as tankers, cruise ships and cargo ships into the harbor, said Taimalelagi.

Capt. Long informed Taimalelagi in a Nov. 15, 2017 letter that her request for a waiver from the Alternative Planning Criteria (APC) requiring two tug escorts in Pago Pago Harbor is approved until Mar. 15, 2018.

“There will be no further waivers granted for this purpose,” Long wrote in a copy of the letter Carr provided to Samoa News. Long said compliance with the stipulated APC criteria was last achieved in October 2016.

“Over the last year, there has been difficulty with availability of credentialed mariners, two close calls involving tank vessels, and issues related to funding to achieve compliance,” Long noted.

Although he understands the need for additional time for Port Administration to acquire and operate an additional towing vessel to meet the APC criteria, “Due to safety and other concerns, I cannot continue to waive the APC requirements,” he told Taimalelagi.

If unable to meet compliance with the purchase of a second tug by Mar. 15th of next year, Long requested to be immediately briefed on the Port’s contingency plan.

Carr told Samoa News the “safe flow of maritime commerce in and out of the Port of Pago Pago is a priority of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Captain of the Port is committed to continue to work with Port Administration as they work to come into compliance with the Alternative Planning Criteria."