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Conflicting testimonies over decision to purchase a second tugboat

A recent photo, provided by the ASG Port Administration, showing the tugboat, ‘Signet Courageous’, in Louisiana. This used tugboat is being checked by Port Administration engineers, who are in Louisiana, as a possible second tugboat for the Port of Pago Pago.  [courtesy photo]
Shipyard Authority and Port don’t agree

ASG Shipyard Authority chief executive Moefa’auo Bill Emmsley and Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele, who is also a member of the shipyard board, gave different explanations to a Senate committee this week regarding repairs of ASG tugboats and the purchase of a second one.

The conflicting testimonies arose over the decision by Port to purchase a second tugboat vs. repairing the two tugboats — the Tatoso and the Sailele. ASG has sold the Tatoso, while the Sailele remains the only tugboat in use by Port.

(Samoa News should point out that also auctioned off by the ASG Property Management Office, at the same time as the Tatoso, was the Tautua — another of ASG’s tugboats that had been out of commission for about 15 years.)

The Lolo Administration has until mid-November to have in place a second tugboat for the Port of Pago Pago, after being granted a waiver by the US Coast Guard, to use only one tugboat — in this case, the Sailele.

Senate Transportation/Port Committee chairman Sen. Paepae Iosefa Faiai called the Monday hearing to find out why the tugboat Tatoso could not be repaired but was auctioned off and sold to the Samoa government.

Sen. Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr., claimed during a committee hearing last week that the Tatoso is running “fast” in the waters of Samoa.

Paepae asked Moefa’auo and Taimalelagi why the shipyard couldn't repair the Tatoso.

The Port director replied it wasn't that the shipyard couldn't repair the Tatoso, it was a question of how best to utilize the $1.7 million in federal Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding, especially in light of a new federal regulation that goes into effect January 2018, which calls for a higher horse power engine than what the Tatoso or the Sailele have.

She said Port engineers were asked to look at what was best: To repair the Tatoso and the Sailele, or purchase a second used tugboat to meet USCG regulations in 2018.

According to her, Port engineers, including Capt. Michael Pulu, understood the condition and mechanical issues of both the Tatoso and the Sailele; and the recommendation was to secure a better, more powerful tugboat than either of the two.

Moefa'auo said there were discussions of repairs for the two tugboats, when CIP funding came available and the shipyard submitted two separate proposals with a contract to carry out the work. He said the shipyard could've done the required repairs for both tugboats.

He noted that while the shipyard was awaiting a response from Port Administration, he was surprised to learn that the Tatoso had been auctioned off and that the Samoa government vessel, Fotu o Samoa, had sailed off to Apia with it.

Moefa’auo said he doesn't recall ever being informed by Port or attending a meeting with Port and the local USCG, where the decision was announced that Port will look at purchasing a used tugboat, rather than repairing both tugboats.

Taimalelagi disagreed, and said perhaps Moefa’auo had forgotten about the April 2017 meeting that was requested by the local Coast Guard, where he was in attendance.

(ASG employees who spoke to Samoa News said Moefa'auo did attend the April meeting that was held inside the Port conference room. Taimalelagi confirmed yesterday that her notes from the Apr. 26th meeting show the names of those who attended - including Moefa’auo — and the issue of Port working to purchase a second vessel was discussed.)

Taimalelagi said the estimated cost of the shipyard’s proposal to repair the Tatoso was around $1.1 million, leaving a balance of $600,000 for the Sailele. She said even if the Tatoso was repaired, it wouldn’t meet the new federal regulation - effective January 2018 - for a tugboat to have 3,000 horse power.

Pulu explained this requirement during the April meeting, according to Taimalelagi, where Moefa’auo was also told of the decision to purchase a second tugboat. She said the governor had been kept abreast of all these developments and he agreed to the purchase.

Taimalelagi said it is “more economical” for Port to purchase a second tugboat rather than repair the Tatoso, which is about 40 years old, because it's very difficult to get parts for both the Tatoso and Sailele, as these models are now hard to find.

The $1.7 million in CIP funding was initially to overhaul and repair the Tatoso and Sailele, but Taimalelagi said Lolo had requested — and the DOI's Office of Insular Affairs, which oversees CIP money, has approved the purchase of a second tugboat — “a tugboat that meets the new regulation” and repairs to the Sailele.

At this point, $250,000 is earmarked for Sailele repairs and the balance is to purchase a second tugboat, she said, adding that Sailele repairs are being carried out by an outside contractor for welding and so forth.

Port currently has one tugboat, and it can't go up on the shipyard slipway for full repairs, said Taimalelagi.

Moefa’auo said the correct cost proposed by the shipyard for repairs was $950,000 for the Tatoso and $650,000 for the Sailele, and it would have come with a five-year warranty.

Samoa News obtained an Aug. 19, 2016 letter from Moefa’auo outlining the tugboat overhaul and a retrofit proposal to Taimalelagi, which notes that total costs of the project are $1.72 million under CIP, with $1.03 million for Tatoso and $688,000 for Sailele.

Moefa’auo didn’t immediately reply to Samoa News questions emailed Monday afternoon regarding the shipyard proposal — the difference between the costs verbally given to the Senate vs. the estimate in the Aug. 19th letter - and his claim that he didn’t attend the April meeting.

Samoa News, seeking comments from the Governor’s Office on the tugboat issue, whether the governor was informed or not, was told that questions will be raised with Lolo for a reply. It was noted that the governor was kept updated on the need to secure a second tugboat.