GAC has built up a fleet of tugs, anchor handlers and barges in the Middle East while tackling the challenges of marine support services in the region
GAC operates a multitude of tugs, barges, service vessels and workboats in most countries in the Middle East. As with many operators in the region, its fleet supports a mixture of marine construction and offshore projects and has a varied range of performance and power.
It added two vessels from the secondhand Asian market to the fleet this quarter to bolster its operations and has overcome technical challenges that are particular, although not unique, to the Middle East.
GAC had to overcome issues relating to barge towage and minimising hull growth on vessels operating in the Middle East, GAC vice president for marine operations Erland Ebbersten told Tug Technology & Business. These include dealing with excessive marine growth on tugboat hulls and reviewing documentation and the condition of barges to minimise the risk of marine accidents.
“We have to be careful about the condition of other companies’ barges,” Mr Ebbersten said. “We need to ensure the condition is good and that barges are not overloaded.” In this way GAC can prevent stability issues from occurring, he said.
“We need to ensure the condition is good and that barges are not overloaded”
When GAC tugs are manoeuvring barges in bad weather in the Middle East Gulf and Red Sea, it becomes problematic if assets are not structurally sound. “Barges in poor condition could break up and risk pulling tugs over,” Mr Ebbersten said.
“There have been incidents with large rock barges being corroded and breaking apart,” he explained. GAC has encountered rusted manholes on deck, which has led to water leaking into tanks “resulting in the loss of stability,”, said Mr Ebbersten.
To mitigate these potential incidents GAC reviews class papers of the barges to check they are in order. “Our masters will look at general conditions, but we do not do full inspections. This is done by the warranty surveyor,” Mr Ebbersten said.
He added that there was a lot of rock barge towage especially in the UAE for construction projects. Barges can also carry project cargo, such as compressors, and other heavy items. These need to be ballasted so GAC does its own ballast calculations.
Another technical challenge with operating in the Middle East is the extent of marine growth. “We feel that marine growth in the Middle East is so strong that we want to clean the hull and sea chest every 2.5 years,” said Mr Ebbersten. “In other locations with less underwater growth we could get away with substituting a mid-term docking with an underwater survey.”
GAC inspects and repair tugs every 2.5 years in its own drydock facility, which it needed when it started operating in the Middle East in 1974. “Back then, there were no shipyards, so we had to have our own maintenance facility with a drydock in Abu Dhabi,” he said. GAC uses this for repairs and for building vessels for its own fleet. It is currently building an anchor-handling tug, which GAC plans to deploy offshore Africa when completed.
“We constantly need to rejuvenate the tug fleet”
There are currently no plans to build new tugs because tug utilisation and competition in the Middle East means GAC is not ready to expand its fleet. However, many of GAC’s clients have a 20-year limit on the age of tugs. “We constantly need to rejuvenate the tug fleet,” Mr Ebbersten said. “The cost of building a new tug is substantial and there are a lot of opportunities to acquire [secondhand] vessels.”
These tugs can have conventional controlled pitch propellers and do not need to have azimuthing stern drive designs “as these need more extensive maintenance” he explained. “Our range of requirements for rejuvenating tugs is 50-100 tonnes bollard pull, with restricted draughts as there are places we work with less than 5 m water depth limits.”
GAC is also affected by political tensions in the Middle East. Its operations in Qatar have decreased due to the political fallout between that nation and others in the region.
“To operate in Qatar we have to clear everything through Oman,” Mr Ebbersten said. “For example, McDermott wanted to use an anchor-handling tug in Qatar, but no vessels constructed in [the] UAE are able to operate in Qatar.” This has meant GAC had to source vessels that are not constructed in the UAE.
At least training and recruitment of crew and onshore support staff is not an issue for GAC. It is able to source people from local markets, Mr Ebbersten explained. “All seafarers need to be approved for various national authorities and have medical certificates and permits,” he said. “We can provide them with onboard training from our senior captains.”
GAC Middle East fleet operations
Countries where GAC operates include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Its fleet includes eight tugs, eight barges, seven crew boats, five anchor handling tugs and two anchor handling tug and supply vessels operating in the Middle East.
GAC vice president for marine operations Erland Ebbersten explained that this fleet now includes two anchor handling tugs purchased from Singapore, 2008-built Kristiina (ex-Lewek Kestrel) and 2007-built Agneta (ex-Lewek Kea).
“We use our fleet in the construction of offshore islands and other marine infrastructure, such as jetties, quaysides and breakwaters,” he said. “In [the] UAE, we use barges for supplying cement-coated pipes, offshore facility topsides, material for civil construction and for building piers and jetties.”
GAC has bid its tugs and barges to support the construction of 13 artificial islands providing piling and material loaded on to barges. Its tugs are also involved in port berthing, supporting dredging operations and assisting ships in coastal and inland waterways.
Its tugs have a power range from 560 kW to 5,960 kW and its barges are between 1,200 dwt and 8,000 dwt. GAC is also engaged in supplying ships off Fujairah, UAE with materials and seafarers.
GAC also operates in the Caspian with bases in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. However, these are more focused on supporting upstream oil and gas operations. GAC operates anchor handling tug supply vessels for rig moves and for supporting offshore drilling and production, including supplying cement, barite, liquid mud, casing and drill pipe. GAC also operates a fleet of crew boats in Sri Lanka and workboats in Scotland.
GAC Middle East fleet
Tugs >2,900 kW: 3
Tugs 750-2,900 kW: 3
Tugs: <750 kW: 2
Crew boats: 7
Anchor handlers: 5
Barges >6,000 dwt: 4
Barges <6,000 dwt: 4
Landing craft: 1
GAC Middle East tug fleet
Name length (m) Year built BP (tonnes)
Anchor handling tugs
Kristiina 48 2008 110
Agneta 48 2007 110
Susanna 49.5 2004 110
Mimmi 45 2001 80
Ann Sofie 42.5 1999 80
Dimitra 1 40 2010 50
Matilda 40 2010 50
Ulrika 40 2009 50
Blenda 30.5 2003 40
Linda 1 27 1997 32
Lisa 25 1976 21
Eva 23 1976 13
Vicky 18 1976 10