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Tug Technology & Business

Tug Technology & Business

Light on the horizon as contracts pick up

Fri 09 Oct 2015 by Barry Luthwaite

Light on the horizon as contracts pick up
Executives from Svitzer and Sanmar at the signing ceremony for a six vessel tug order placed this August

While everyone accepts that times are tough at the moment, the growing popularity of ever-bigger deepsea vessels as a means of achieving economies of scale is placing new demands on towage and escort services to achieve safe port handling. Older tugs are finding it difficult to keep pace and many owners are having to examine how they can match fast-changing market developments. Investment in new tugs is sometimes the only answer.

From a vessel handling perspective, container ships and cruise liners just get bigger and bigger. Recent box ship orders have exceeded 20,000 teu and may go higher, although shipyards now acknowledge that size should peak at 21,000 teu. They had initially indicated that a 24,000 teu construction could be achieved from current facilities in South Korea.

The continued advance in large vessel contracting is something of a saving grace. Ultra large container ships will normally employ three tugs, while the boom in contracting very large gas carriers will ensure work at new terminals for at least four units, on safety grounds. The renaissance in ordering very large crude carriers will ensure more employment for tugs, too.

Such  positive trends are encouraging reinvestment in powerful tug types by a number of operators. One of the market leaders, Svitzer, continues to expand its tug fleet to cater for different global towage requirements. Its latest order, contracted with Turkey’s Sanmar, calls for six 70 tonnes bollard pull azimuth stern drive (ASD) tugs built to the RAstar 2800-E design.

This order further enhances a long-standing relationship with Canadian designer Robert Allan Ltd (RAL), lifting its backlog of current orders for tugs designed by RAL to 34 units. Deliveries of the six latest vessels will begin from the fourth quarter of 2016 and the tugs will be suited for operation in tropical climes. The Danish tug operator is planning further expansion of its worldwide fleet as it is negotiating new towing business and port infrastructure agreements.

Previously, Svitzer entered into an agreement with the Damen group for two 80 tonnes bollard pull tugs to be assigned to escort and towing duties in the UK ports of Felixstowe and London Gateway, in the Thames estuary. Large container vessels calling at both locations are the main target market, as Felixstowe brings a new berth on stream, and London Gateway unveils a third berth next year.

German owner Bugsier has contracted two separate tug designs. The Turkish yard Bogazici Shipping collaborated with Spanish designer Cintranaval to fulfil a contract for one 32m long tug built to a design that ensures a great deal of operational versatility. An open stern will allow anchor handling operations while other equipment will enable participation in salvage, offshore and fire-fighting duties. The second Bugsier unit will be a Damen ASD Tug 2411 type and is destined for harbour towage duties.

In the USA, shipbuilder Great Lakes Shipyard has procured an order from Guatemala that calls for two 3,400hp tugs which will cover harbour duties in Puerto Quetzal. The tugs have been designed by Seattle-based Jensen Naval Architects & Marine Engineers and will be delivered in 2016. The builder has commissioned several tugs of this design to date.

Having recently delivered the Z-drive Becky S to Bisso Towboat Co, another US yard, Main Iron Works, has gained an order for a sistership, also with a 4,480hp rating, for delivery next year. A pair of Rolls-Royce US 205 FP Z-drives will power the new tug, driving stainless steel propellers within stainless steel nozzles. The Bisso tug fleet will increase to 13 units on delivery.

While there are positive influences on the market, there are some that are less so. Smaller sized vessels are being redeployed, reducing tug handling work. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that vessels of up to 40,000 dwt fitted with the latest thrusters and other related technology now have sufficient manoeuvrability to be able to decline tug assistance, with the agreement of pilots and port authorities in fine weather conditions.  The market is in a state of flux, but overall experience over the past six months gives cause for optimism.

region/shipbuilder owner no design bollard pull (tonnes) year
PJ Bumi Construction Fast Boat Industries 2   50 2016
PJ Bumi Construction Fast Boat Industries 1   50 2015
Rosetti Marino Fratelli Neri 2 ASD Tug 3212 80 2017
The Netherlands          
Damen Shipyards Bugsier Reederei 1 ASD Tug 2411 70 2016
Damen Shipyards Galati Cooperativa de Trabajos Portuarios 2 ASD Tug 2810 60 2015
Russian Federation          
Pella Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation 1 90600 23 2017
Pella Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation 1 90600 23 2016
Astilleros Armon La Autoridad Portuaria de Santa Ceuz de Tenerife 1     2016
Bogazici Shipping Bugsier Reederei 1   80 2016
Sanmar Svitzer 5 RAstar 2800-E 70 2017
Sanmar Svitzer 1 RAstar 2800-E 70 2016
Far East          
Damen Song Cam Shipyard Svitzer Marine 2 ASD Tug 3212 80 2015
Middle East          
Egyptian Ship Repairs and Building Co. Alexandria Port Authority 2   40 2016
Ship Repairs and Building Company Alexandria Port Authority 2   55 2016
North America          
Main Iron Works Bisso Towboat Co 1   60 2017
Great Lakes Shipyard Regimen de Pensiones y Jubilaciones del Personal de la Empresa Portuaria 1     2016

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