When Neptune and PDL joined into what would become Neptune Pacific Direct Line (NPDL) in March 2020, we never imagined the unprecedented challenges our world would face in response to COVID-19. The road to full recovery is long, but what we learned from the past year has only strengthened our resolve and commitment to our mission to provide over the long term reliable and affordable shipping services that link the Pacific Island peoples and economies to international markets.
First, the health and safety of our crewmembers and market remain our top priority. We engaged expert epidemiologist and formulated and implemented COVID risk management procedures that have achieved and maintained COVID-free bubbles on-board our fleet. In May 2020, we implemented world best practices including:
- Mandatory14-day quarantine and PCR tests before joining crew are authorized to board vessels
- Daily temperature recordings while on board
- Isolation of crewmembers while in port
- Restrictions on Port Agents from boarding our vessels
The tough reality of business in this COVID world quickly set in, and while we would not have it any other way, prioritizing our COVID-19 protocols resulted in increased challenges to the speed and frequency in which we normally do business.
While they were beyond our control, challenges such as the lack of flights for crew positioning or timely supply of spare parts challenged our maintenance programs. Severe and ongoing disruption and port congestion have caused numerous vessel delays. For our chartered vessels, the hire rates have spiked up due to a worldwide shortage of suitable vessels. Similarly, there is a shortage of containers available in Asia. In January 2020, the IMO mandated the use of low sulphur fuel (LSF), but this fuel is not available regionally and carriers are running ships on expensive diesel. Combined, these factors have very real financial impact.
As optimists, we do expect the roll out of vaccines to be followed by an economic rebound. In the meantime, we’re taking several measures to reduce operating costs while improving service frequency and reliability.
Beginning in April, we are launching a number of network change to improve service frequency:
- A weekly service between Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji
- Fortnightly service between Australia, Asia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Vanuatu
- Increased frequency between Australia and Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga
Despite – or maybe because of – COVID-19, we have experienced increased trade within the Pacific. To support further trade development, we are expanding our inter-island services. From April, we are deploying two purpose-built vessels designed to meet the special requirements of Wallis and Futuna’s shallow ports:
- One calling Suva, Lautoka, Tuvalu, Apia, Pago Pago, and Wallis and Futuna every 18 days
- Another calling Noumea, Suva, Lautoka, Port Vila, Santo, and Tarawa every 21 days, and Kiritimati quarterly
We are excited about these changes that are aimed to provide our customers more sailing options. Thank you for trusting us with your business and look forward to serving you with the speed, frequency, and reliability you’ve come to expect from NPDL.