The name Steamships is as much a symbol of Papua New Guinea as the bird of paradise or the kundu drum. Since its formation over 70 years ago as Steamships Trading Co Ltd, the company has managed to propel itself from a tiny enterprise, whose sea-captain founder, Capt. Algernon Fitch, once sold goods through the bathroom window of his Port Moresby bungalow in Douglas Street, into the country’s leading trading firm.
A lthough “Steamies”, as locals affectionately call the company, now has a finger in nearly every trading pie imaginable, its roots were in shipping. It has stayed true to them to this day. In its infancy the company only owned two ships but this small fleet soon grew into a regular and reliable flotilla which traded successfully all along the Papuan coast. Nowadays the Shipping and Transport division of Steamships operates a multi-functional fleet of 19 ships – tugs, dumb barges, landing craft and survey vessels, all of them kept in pristine condition and equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
“The company also tries to be innovative and think on its feet. A lthough Steamships is a household name, we make sure we never get complacent.”
Steamships transports everything from minerals and metals to bags of rice and containers of chicken feed. It always keeps an eye open for goods that will whet local appetites.
Although it is based exclusively in Papua New Guinea, Steamships has strong links throughout the world. A steady stream of imports and exports is transported not just around Asia and Australasia but to many parts of Europe. Predictably, Steamships Shipping and Transport has branches at all PNG’s major ports including Port Moresby, Lae, Madang, Rabaul and Kiunga on the Fly River.
Another string to the company’s bow is Steamships Shipping Agencies. This ever expanding division coordinates all the waterside functions of the company and acts as agent for dedicated regional services such as Chief Container Service from Australia, New Guinea Pacific Line from Asia and Pacific Forum Line from New Zealand. In addition, Steamships also looks after the interests of such renowned shipping companies as P and O, and Maersk Line.
“Well co-ordinated shipping control at each of the ports is essential,” stressed Terry Hudson, Agency Manager. “Too muach time wasted in port can mean a major loss of money. Stevedoring operations have to be very efficient. Fortunately Steamships owns stevedoring companies in the four main ports of PNG.”
Steamships’ stevedores handle thousands of tonnes of cargo every year and also operate a significant rod haulage operation around each of the ports.
Of the 370 staff employed by Steamships Shipping and Transport, 98% are nationals. Steamships puts great emphasis on developing the skills of its employees. Many attend the nautical college at Madang and specific courses overseas. Recently one of Steamships’ sea cadets became the first Papua New Guinean trained seaman to achieve a Class 1 foreign-going Master Mariner’s certificate.
One third of Steamships is owned by the internationally renowned Swire Group. Swires has bases in every corner of the world and provides Steamships Shipping and Transport with a valuable web of contacts.
“Papua New Guinea has great potential, from a shipping perspective,” says Duncan Telfer. “It is a country rich in minerals and timber, both of which make valuable exports. It also has a strong agricultural base. “
Although PNG will always rely largely on imports, I think there will be an increasingly dynamic export trade with more products being processed locally rather than abroad. I am very optimistic for the future of shipping in this country.”