Genoa-based Rimorchiatori Riuniti group is consolidating its already strong position within the Mediterranean harbour towage segment
Rimorchiatori Riuniti (RR) has been investing steadily in the rejuvenation and upgrading of its harbour towage fleet over the past 18 months. It also extended the geographic scope of its towage operations, through the renamed Rimorchiatori Augusta business in Sicily. RR managing director Alberto Dellepiane explained why the tug operating group has been on this investment path.
“The investment we have been making is not so much aimed at expanding the size of our tug fleets, as replacing some of our older tugs with new, more powerful ones that better meet the needs of the market,” he told Tug Technology & Business. He added: “We have approximately the same number of tugs in each port, as the volume of work is not changing that much."
"Our tugs are now a better match for what our customers require in terms of power and manoeuvrability."
The RR group has most recently turned to Damen for a series of five newbuildings, including three azimuth stern drive (ASD) 2913 tugs, two of which will be deployed at the port of Genoa, plus an ASD 2411 tug for Genoa and an ASD 2810 tug for Augusta.
Earlier this year RR took delivery of Germania, one of the Damen ASD 2913 tugs, which was built at Damen Shipyards Galati in Romania. The powerful 80-tonnes bollard pull, double-hull tug comes with extras including FiFi fire-fighting capability, oil recovery and escort notations, and an aft winch, allowing the tug to flexibly provide offshore as well as harbour towage services. A second sister ship, also built at Damen Galati, is due to be handed over in May this year for operation in the port of Genoa. A third ASD 2913 is also on order with Damen, and is due for delivery later in 2017, but its precise deployment is still to be confirmed.
Rimorchiatori Augusta took delivery of the 60-tonnes bollard pull Capo Boeo in December 2016, after it had sailed on its own keel from the Damen Song Cam Shipyard in Vietnam. The vessel is the first new tug for Rimorchiatori Augusta since its acquisition by RR, and is designed to meet the needs of vessels calling at the petrochemical facilities in the port of Augusta in particular. Capo Boeo has also been outfitted with FiFi fire-fighting equipment and upgraded towing hooks.
In addition to the Damen newbuildings, the RR group's fleet of tugs has been augmented in the past year by two 70-tonnes bollard pull Voith Schneider tugs. Gatto, delivered by the Italian Rosetti shipyard, is in service in the port of Ravenna, while Arie A was built by Sanmar of Turkey for Tripmare.
Mr Dellepiane said there were no plans for further investment in new tugs at the moment, but added: “Our policy is to have a very efficient and modern fleet of vessels at our disposal. So perhaps in 2018 we will go out to the market again with plans to further modernise our fleet.”
History of towage in southern Europe
As a result of its acquisition of the Augusta tug business, RR is now the largest Italian tug operator in the Mediterranean. It is one of the longest established providers of towage services in southern Europe, with its origins dating back 95 years to the company's foundation in Genoa in 1922. Today the company operates a diverse fleet of around 100 tugs, ranging from small 20-tonnes bollard pull harbour tugs up to 180-tonnes bollard pull anchor handlers.
Through a number of wholly-owned subsidiaries, RR has a strong and established presence in the ports of Genoa and Salerno, which are the core of the business around which the group's towing activities are largely based. In addition it now operates in the ports of Augusta, Catania, Syracuse and Pozzalo in Sicily, and in Malta. The incorporation of a Sicilian operation represents a relatively recent expansion for the group, following the acquisition of Augustea Imprese Marittime and Salvataggi in 2016, while Tug Malta was purchased from the Maltese government through privatisation in 2007.
RR further operates, through a 50 per cent shareholding in Gesmar, a joint venture with the Vitielli family and one of the leading tug operators in the Adriatic, in the ports of Ravenna, Ancona, Pescara, Termoli Vasto and Ortona. It is also a leading provider of harbour towage services in the Adriatic port of Trieste, through Tripmare, a further joint venture between Gesmar and the Cattaruzza family-owned Ocean Team towage business.
Mr Dellepiane said more needs to be achieved in Italian towage. “There is still much to do, but we are satisfied with what we have achieved in Sicily so far, and we will continue to focus on improving quality, both in terms of tugs and human resources, to bring Rimorchiatori Augusta into line with our overall approach to the towage market.”
Expansion brings fleet flexibility
The expansion of the business in recent years has had significant benefits, generating economies of scale, but also greater operational flexibility. “Now we have operations in such a wide range of ports, we are able to allocate older, less powerful tugs to smaller ports, while the newer, more powerful tugs can be deployed at the larger ports like Genoa, Ravenna, Trieste and Augusta,” Mr Dellepiane explained.
“As our towage business stretches from the Adriatic to Malta we can move assets around, to better match tugs and ports."
There are no immediate plans for RR to grow further by acquisition. “For the time being we are consolidating what we have, but we will of course keep our eyes open for any suitable opportunities.” Generally, the current market in which RR is operating is quite challenging. As Mr Dellepiane pointed out, “We are seeing bigger ships, but this means less moves for tugs to make, as fewer vessels are calling at the ports we serve.
“We have to have more powerful tugs, as we are subject to weather conditions with these bigger ships and we need more power in high winds. So, we need to keep investing in new tugs, but the overall volume of work is more or less the same. It is a difficult balance to achieve, and to survive we have to focus on cost control.”
Mr Dellepiane does not anticipate much improvement in the market in 2017 or 2018. “There may be some variations between ports, for example in Genoa they are building new quays and that may lead to an increase in container traffic,” he said. “But it will take time and it is not inevitable as there are so many other global factors at play.”
As well as harbour towage, RR has a fleet of four anchor handler vessels, operating in north Europe and offshore Brazil. In the North Sea AH Verrazze has been involved in a number of rig moves in the North Sea this year, while AH Valletta has been engaged to carry out ship-to-ship operations off the coast of Brazil.