One constant in the global tug operating industry is the question of what to do with the ageing population. Tugs can in theory continue to operate for decades, depending on the work they are employed for and local requirements.
However, in practice, they are mainly redundant after around 40 years of service and owners are unsure of what to do with this ageing fleet or how to dispose of them.
There can be a solution from marine conservation though. In the US, a tugboat has been acquired, cleaned and prepared as an artificial reef.
St Lucie County-based Sea-Life Habitat Improvement Project, appropriately named SHIP, acquired 50-year-old Penobscot and promised to convert it into a tugboat reef offshore St Lucie and Martin counties.
To complete this, SHIP will strip the tug to its metal shell, removing oil, cabling, wheelhouse devices and remaining equipment from the interior and deck.
It will then be towed to the Port of Fort Pierce from Port Canaveral, Florida, by McCulley Marine Services before being deployed as an artificial reef in 35 m of water, 13 miles northeast of St Lucie Inlet and 12 miles southeast of Fort Pierce Inlet.
Penobscot was last operational in 2016 when it was driven from its anchorage by Hurricane Matthew into piers and vessels in Port Canaveral, causing considerable damage.
Its fate as an artificial reef is a demonstration of how owners of mature tugs may be able to pension them off before they become a liability.