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2nd tugboat will cost $1M

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]A look at the deck of the tugboat  ‘Signet Courageous’, which is being touted as a possible second tugboat for the Port of Pago Pago.  [courtesy photo]
Coast Guard waiver allowing the use of one tug expires mid-November

The US Coast Guard has confirmed that it had issued a waiver to the Port of Pago Pago — allowing the use of one tugboat — as well as an extension for the ASG Port Administration Department to come up with a second tugboat by mid-November this year.

So far Port Administration appears to have identified a possible second tugboat, the ‘Signet Courageous’ in Louisiana, working with Ocean Marine Brokerage Services, based in Schriever, LA, where an engineer from American Samoa is assessing the tug.

During a Senate committee hearing last week, it was confirmed that ASG’s older tugboats, Tautua, which had been out of commission for about 15 years, and the Tatoso, which had encountered many mechanical problems, were auctioned off by the Office of Property Management.

Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele informed senators that the Coast Guard has allowed the use of only one tugboat, Sailele, for water traffic in Pago Pago Harbor, with the understanding that ASG is to receive before year’s end, a second tugboat.

However, there have been concerns from some lawmakers and others in the community, about the safety in using just one tugboat, especially when large oil tankers and container vessels call into Pago Pago Harbor, which comes under the jurisdiction of the US Coast Guard Captain of the Port Honolulu, headed by USCG Capt. Michael C. Long.

Responding to Samoa News questions, Honolulu-based Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Scott Carr said that Long’s original “waiver” to Port Administration was dated Oct. 28, 2016 and then on Sept. 1, 2017 a 10-week extension was granted, permitting single tug operations until Nov. 15th.

“The extension was granted to the Port Administration to allow the additional time requested to identify, purchase, and place in service a second towing vessel in order to meet the Alternate Planning Criteria for American Samoa,” Carr said via email from Honolulu last Friday.

In granting the 10-week extension of the waiver, Long stated that in “light of the mechanical issues experienced with the tugboat Sailele” he sought assurances from Port Administration that these issues are being addressed and if additional issues arise that the local Coast Guard office be notified immediately, according to a copy of the Sept. 1, 2017 letter from Long to Taimalelagi, provided by Carr to Samoa News.

“I would like to be notified as soon as you have identified an additional towing vessel that meets your acquisition plans and if the implementation schedule cannot be met,” wrote Long, who added that he fully understands the challenges faced by ASG and Port Adminostration regarding this issue, and thanked Taimalelagi for her continued partnership in “managing the inherent risks associated with port operations”.

At last week’s Senate committee hearing, Taimalelagi said engineers from port are currently in Louisiana and working with the Coast Guard on securing a second tugboat, which will be purchased using an estimated $1 million funded by federal Capital Improvement Project (CIP) money.

Based on assessment by the engineers from the ASG shipyard, she said it would have cost about $1 million for repairs to the tugboat Tatoso, but Port can use the $1 million to purchase a used tugboat (not a ‘new tugboat’ as initially reported by Samoa News).

Taimalelagi told Samoa News last Thursday that Port has Capt. Michael Pulu — who was the engineer on the tugboat Sailele when it sailed from Hawai’i to Pago Pago — in Louisiana looking for a tugboat.

“We also paid for Henry Ledoux, who is an engineer at a shipyard in Seattle, inspecting tugboats in Louisiana. We are making progress and plan to have another tugboat here in Pago by November, 2017,” she said, adding that Coast Guard officials from Honolulu have reiterated to the governor during a meeting last month the need for Pago Pago to have two tugboats.

Port Administration has been working with the ASG shipyard since early April this year to address issues pertaining to the tugboats and have kept the governor abreast, according to exchanged emails between Taimalelagi and the local Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment  Unit (MSDU).

In one email, Taimalelagi informed Lt. Kevin P. Whalen, who was MSDU supervisor at the time that, “We are considering the possibility of acquiring a used tugboat that far exceeds the Tatoso and Sailele capabilities.”

“We take this issue of tugboats and the safety of Port operations very seriously. We are very aware and appreciative of the one-tug waiver and do not plan to continue with this practice for long,” Taimalelagi wrote. “However, should the Tatoso require the intense repairs that could take up to 6-12 months we would like to have another tugboat aside from the Sailele available within six months.”

In response, Whalen noted with concern that the one-tugboat waiver was put in place at the end of October 2016 and “there still has been no forward progress on getting either of the tugs up in the dry-dock.”

“In this time period we have already had a period of two days where vessels over 400gt could not enter the Port of Pago Pago due to high winds,” said Whalen, who requested to have “a concrete plan in place."

When asked about the safety of having only one tugboat, Carr said last Friday, “Safety is always a primary concern of the US Coast Guard and the requirement to have two tugs operating in a port greatly reduces the likelihood of a maritime accident.

He added that the “Coast Guard Captain of the Port understands how vital the Port of Pago Pago is to the residents of American Samoa so he developed four operational risk management mitigation strategies to allow port operations to continue for a limited period of time while Port Administration acquires a second tug to meet the Alternate Planning Criteria”.

Those “mitigation strategies”, he said, were put in place October 28, 2016 and are:

•    Vessels entering/ departing port must conduct forward and astern propulsion tests and the results must be communicated to the harbor master;

•    Vessels entering/ departing port must be manned and ready to immediately deploy the vessels anchor in the event the vessel loses propulsion;

•    Vessels entering/ departing port must be manned and ready to immediately assume steerage from an alternate location in the event the vessel loses primary steering capability; and

•    Arrival and departure transits shall not be conducted during periods of reduced visibility, to include darkness or when winds exceed 25 knots.

Both Taimalelagi and Carr provided to Samoa News copies of the Coast Guard letter from October last year, that outlined the “mitigation strategies”, in an effort to keep the public — especially port users and others — abreast of what both sides have put in place to ensure safety at Pago Pago Harbor.

Meanwhile, other tugboat issues, including the sale of the Tatoso, which is now operating in Samoa waters, will be the subject of a Senate Transportation/ Port Committee hearing today. Witnesses being called to testify are Taimalelagi as well as officials from the ASG shipyard and the Coast Guard.