Welcome to my 2018 preview of the global tugboat sector. This year we will see the fruition of the innovations in tug technology and operations developed in 2017. There should also be innovations in power and performance to look forward to.
Innovative designs trump conventional tugboats
A prime example of innovative design is the first commercial Carrousel Rave tug.
Multraship Towage and Salvage’s Multratug 32 harbour tug is set to commence commercial operations in the Benelux area. It combines Voith propulsion in an inline configuration with a Robert Allan-designed low-drag hull and a carrousel towing system developed by Novatug.
If Multratug 32 and its sister tug Multratug 33 successfully demonstrate their operational benefits, there could be a clamour from other tug operators to order similarly designed tugboats.
There are other tug design innovations that could also gain success, but most of these are variants of existing designs, except perhaps the powerhouse tug concept.
We highlighted this design from an independent Asian naval architect in the fourth quarter 2017 issue of Tug Technology & Business. There are applications where having a powerhouse tug and barge unit would make sense, because of the low initial capital expenditure required.
Higher power speculative newbuilding
In 2018, we will see shipyards building more speculative newbuildings with bollard pulls of more than 80 tonnes, and perhaps up to 90 tonnes as they recognise that owners need more powerful tugs. There are commercial opportunities for shipyards and owners in this growing trend.
Tugs of up to 90 tonnes bollard pull will be needed to handle the largest container ships, which have reached capacities of 22,000 TEU, and the growing number of liquefied natural gas (LNG) import and export terminals. LNG carriers cannot wait on weather and nor can tankers, thus there will be pressure on tugs to operate around the clock in some of the toughest weather and sea conditions to provide escort and ship handling services. All this leads to design innovation.
LNG versus hybrid
Other innovations around tugboat design and construction will come from owners turning to alternative fuels and energy storage devices. I expect the drive for LNG-fuelled tugs will come from those operating in LNG hubs, such as Singapore, where new tugboats are set to be introduced in 2018.
Elsewhere, there will be a drive by owners to introduce hybrid propulsion systems on newbuildings. These incorporate diesel-electric engines and battery packs, which can be combined to provide enough power during towage operations. But, during general harbour operations and idle periods tugs can be powered by batteries alone.
Hybrid propulsion technology can include electric drives, DC hubs and permanent magnet motors to drive highly efficient thrusters.
With more giant-sized container ships on the world’s seas, comes more risk of groundings and maritime accidents. As a few accidents in 2017 showed, a grounded 22,000 TEU container ship holds huge risks to a salvor. There is the risk that even a fleet of tugs will not be able to refloat one of these huge box ships.
We may also see our first maritime accident involving an LNG-fuelled ship, not necessarily an LNG carrier, but one of the growing number of commercial ships running on gas. As we highlighted in 2017, an LNG-fuelled ship would pose considerable risk and challenges to salvors if it crashed.
To counter these risks, salvage companies are likely to generate new advances, order more powerful tugs and deliver for the shipping community. If only this investment was recognised by shipowners and insurers.
A drive on tug safety
A run of accidents involving tugs and pilot boats shows there needs to be improvements in maritime safety, whether this comes from re-education of tugboat crews, changes to towage guidance, or methods of transferring pilots. Changes need to come for the safety of the towage and tugboat industry worldwide.
It is not just a regional problem. There were reports of fatal accidents from around the world in 2017. This must stop in 2018. For the safety of tugboat crews, pilots and other seafarers there needs to be a drive to improve towage and pilot transfer safety in 2018.