There were record levels of tug orders in 2016 but, as the tug industry changes, the rates of ordering may not be the same this year, writes Barry Luthwaite
Last year was a record year for tug orders, with 111 units exceeding 20m in length. This year is off to a good start for newbuilding contracts, but it is unlikely to hit the heights of 2016. There are signs that the tug industry is changing. There is evidence of a greater shift towards newbuildings, which will continue a renaissance for smaller builders, and fewer second-hand purchases and tug chartering.
The success of builders in Asia is very evident. It has been built mainly on the back of demand for domestic towage, but another factor that is driving business is the need for more powerful tugs, with bollard pulls of 80 tonnes, or more. These are needed to serve very large container ships, gas carriers and tankers. In the case of gas tonnage, purpose-built liquefied natural gas carriers require at least four tugs to attend per berthing and sailing, on safety grounds.
This year will see a plethora of ultra large vessels being commissioned to serve newly commissioned terminals. The oil slump has, however, placed the construction of some new terminals on hold. Some developments may even be cancelled because costs are so difficult to recover in the current recession and with such low oil prices. This could hit tug employment.
On a regional basis, it is noticeable that several shipbuilders have evaded the offshore slump by gaining new tug orders. Tugs themselves have been picking up steady work of the kind which might otherwise have been carried out by offshore support vessels. For example, there has been a strong increase in positioning tows carried out by tugs. Harbor Star Shipping Services in the Philippines recently purchased its third tug, boosting fleet operations to 41 units serving ports in the Philippines and Malaysia. More acquisitions are planned in 2017 and the owner may opt for newbuildings for the first time, having recently secured approval from stock holders to raise more funds, starting with a US$2.5 million loan facility.
Japan is implementing a programme of large Capesize bulk carriers and ore carriers to cover the renewal of contracts of affreightment for the domestic fleet. This has coincided with a run of orders for powerful tugs placed with Japanese yards led by Kanagawa Dockyard Co, which holds nine units all for delivery throughout 2017.
Indonesia and Malaysia authorities have announced fleet renewal programmes to support local trading and the associated tug services, in domestic yards. Malaysian builder Tuong Aik Shipyard, hitherto known for building offshore craft, will counter the offshore slump with a raft of new towage vessels. An order for two 31m tugs to serve the Malaysian hinterland has been secured from a domestic owner.
There is evidence of China bidding for more export business as a means of survival for hard pressed smaller builders. A builder in Nantong recently delivered two 56 tonnes bollard pull units to Mextug which is a Mexican subsidiary of Chile’s Ultratug. The duo, Mextug Lerma and Mextug Balsas, are Azistern 2460 units designed by Offshore Ship Designers which also supervised construction. The units were delivered to Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico, where they will serve. A unique feature is a load line length of below 24m, which will reduce fuel consumption considerably. A recent feature of the market has been a notable increase in the Mexican fleet as a result of deliveries owned or chartered to the state oil company Pemex.
Europe remains busy with a steady level of business materialising and a revival in Spain’s fortunes. Damen Shipyards Group continues to lead the way with its stock hulls of the most popular designs, which continue to find buyers. Some 40 hulls are currently complete and waiting for buyers who only need to wait four to eight weeks, for outfitting work to be carried out, before taking delivery. This proven policy has yielded rich dividends for Damen.
Turkey’s Sanmar shipyard has advanced an agreement with Canadian marine architects Robert Allan for co-operation in tug construction. The Deliçay series is a 60 tonnes bollard pull, off-the-shelf design and follows the latest trend for tugs with a loadline length of under 24m and lower fuel consumption. The latest order, placed with Sanmar, was signed in December for a single unit to work in Port Taranaki, New Zealand.
In a further boost Uzmar shipyard signed an agreement with the Canadian designer for the construction of high performance RAstar 3000-W escort tugs within which propulsion packages, up to the top end of the market of 90 tonnes, are on offer. Orders have been secured, and construction began in the first quarter of 2017. At least six have been committed for delivery to international clients.