Saturday, April 30, 2016

Gulf Spray back at work

The opening of the cruise season in Halifax (see Shipfax) also means the start of the busy season for the tug Gulf Spray. The small tug handles scows that remove waste from cruise ships and will be kept occupied until the end of October.

Gulf Spray trots along light at hull speed, bound for the cruise ship Veendam at Pier 22.

Full out, the tug wrangles a pair of scows with assistance from its companion motorboat (a small tank scow is barely visible on the offside of the larger scow). Working in a stiff breeze, the tow is going more sideways than in the direction of Pier 9A where the various waste products will be landed for disposal.

Gulf Spray was built in 1959 by Ferguson's Industries Ltd in Pictou for shipyard work. Brought to Halifax and rebuilt in 2007, it was badly damaged in a storm in 2014 and partially rebuilt.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Big Ship, high wind, two tugs, no sweat

Despite gale force winds out of the north, the big boxship CMA CGM Almaviva berthed at the Halterm container terminal in Halifax without incident today. It was a smooth operation thanks to the an expereinced pilot and the crews of two Atlantic Towing Ltd tugs.

Atlantic Willow awaits the ship just inside Meagher's Beach.

It then takes up its position at the bow, making fast to a sunken bit, helping to slow the ship down.

It then moves in position to push the ship's bow around, assisted by the ship's own bow thruster.

Atlantic Oak has been pushing at the stern of the ship, pivoting it about its centre.

High above the action, the harbour pilot on the bridge wing directs the tugs by VHF radio.

Atlantic Oak is not made fast, so when the ship has turned sufficiently and begins to make sternway, it can back off quickly.

Moving rapidly in reverse, the tug begins its move to the ship's port side.

 Staying clear of the backing ship, Atlantic Oak makes a tight arc around its stern.

It takes skill and nerve to swing steadily around the moving ship to take up the new position. The deck hand is already forward to make the line fast when the time comes. It would be cold and wet work today.

Once clear, the tug straightens out to move alongside and push the ship into its berth.

The pilots and tugs make this similar manoeuver several times a week, but every time the wind and weather conditions are different. Even so they make it look easy.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ocean Uannaq sinks

The small tug Océan Uannaq sank April 1 while working on the Champlain bridge project in Montreal. The multi-year, multi-million dollar project to replace the span across the St.Lawrence River is using a number of tugs and barges to excavate for and build new foundations. The fast flowing river, particularly in the spring, can be a dangerous place to work.

Océan Uannaq at hull speed during a break from dredging operations.

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident which was not publicized initially.  The tug is resting on the bottom, and so far has not spilled any of its fuel or oil. Once the investigation is complete, the tug will be raised. The two crew members scrambled to safety aboard another tug.

Ocean Uannaq and sister tug Ocean Nigiq were built in 2008 by Groupe Océan to work at the Baffinland Iron port project in Milne Inlet (their names are Inuk for northwest wind and southwest wind). They were transported to Baffin Island in the barges Mary River and  Milne Inlet and worked on construction of the port. The twin screw tugs develop 770 bhp.

 The sister tugs working off St-Joseph-de-la-Rive last June.

On completion of that part of the project Groupe Océan brought the tugs back to Quebec and assigned them to their dredging fleet to handle spoil barges. They have worked up and down the St.Lawrence in recent years, with the dredge Océan Basque 2 and the scows Maxim D and Dominic TD. The scows have stern notches and connect to the tugs with a combination of face wires and bow tethers.

Océan Uannaq transferred to the Champlain project last year and has been working there all winter. Groupe Océan has a large fleet of small tugs,workboats  and barges that they rent out bareboat to construciotn companies, and it seems that the tug was working for a contractor at the time of the sinking.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Victorious - First From the Lakes

Time was when the first visitor from the Great Lakes each spring was a grain ship from the Lakehead.  This year is different, with the first visitor a tug and tanker barge combination.

The articulated tug / barge Victorious / John J. Carrick arrived this morning in blustery conditions straight from the Great Lakes. They passed down through the St.Lawrence Seaway March 24-25, the opening day of the waterway following the winter shut down.

McAsphalt Industries, owners of the pair have a terminal in Eastern Passage at the former Dook's Dock with storage tanks for asphalt, bunker C and heavy fuel. McAsphalt is part of the Miller Group, which also owns Sterling Fuels, the provider of marine fuels to ships in Halifax.

The tug Victorious, 1299 grt, 5300 bhp, was built by Penglai Bohai shipyard in Shandong, China, which also built the 6916 grt barge John J.Carrick in 2008. The pair are connected by means of the Articouple connection system which allows the tug to adjust its position within the barge notch depending on the barge's draft. The tug is also free to pitch independently but does not roll. Although fitted with towing gear, the tug remains tethered in the barge notch in virtually any conditions.

The tug/barge spend most of their time shuttling up and down through the Seaway but also make extended trips to Saint John, NB and Newfoundland depending on demand. 


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Atlantic Fir joins Halifax tug fleet

As reported in previous pages the tug Altantic Fir has joined Atlantic Towing Ltd's permanent Halifax tug fleet replacing Atlantic Larch.

 Atlantic Fir heading southbound in the Narrows this afternnon.

Built in 2005 by Eastisle Shipyard in Georgetown, PE Atlantic Fir is a near sister of the Atlantic Oak, built in 2004 for service in Halifax. Both are 5,050 bhp ASD tugs rated at 68 tonnes bollard fitted with forward shiphandling and aft towing winches and with firefighting capability.

The third tug in Halifax, Atlantic Willow is also a firefighting tug, but with no towing winch. It has 4,000 bhp which delivers a 50 tonne bollard pull.

Atlantic Oak tethered to Atlantic Compass transiting the Narrows.
All tugs were busy at work this weekend, with Atlantic Oak in its usual role as tethered stern escort for large ship in the Narrows. Atlantic Fir will also be used in a similar role for large ships.

 Atlantic Willow in a close tethered position. It has only a towing hook, and is thus not fitted with a stern roller.

Even Atlantic Willow got in a rare escort job with the 69,919 deadweight tonne tanker Overseas Jademar when it was decided not to berth at Nova Scotia Power due to high winds. The ship instead proceeded through the Narrows for an anchorage in Bedford Basin.[see also Shipfax]. The 4,000 bhp tugs are normally not used for large ship escort in the Narrows.

 Atlantic Fir moves into position to make fast forward on the 65,919 deadweight tonne NYK Constellation, with Atlantic Oak in position as stern tethered escort.

Meanwhile Atlantic Larch, which will now be used for outside towing work, is in the Bahamas Islands bound for Colon, Panama to pick up the decommissioned Royal Canadian Navy ship Protecteur  That ship is in tow of the Corbin Foss off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Its most recent ETA for Balboa was March 17.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Svitzer does it

Svitzer Canada has struck a knife into the heart of the Quebec towing business by setting up shop in Montreal and going head to head against Groupe Océan in Canada's largest eastern port.

The surprise move occurred March 10 when the powerful 5,000 bhp ice class ASD tugs Svitzer Nerthus and Svitzer Njal arrived in their new home port.

Svitzer Nerthus and Svitzer Njal at the usually empty Svitzer dock in Halifax earlier this year.

There are a number of interesting aspects to this move, which I will mention in no particular order.

Since taking over Eastern Canada Towing Ltd Svitzer seemed to lose ground, having lost the Iron Ore Company of Canada contract in Sept-Iles to Océan. (Océan did buy their two old tugs however!)

In a strategic alliance with Atlantic Towing Ltd (a J.D.Irving company), they formed joint venture companies to provide towing services in Halifax and on the Strait of Canso. That saw Svitzer's tugs pull out of Halifax and go to the Strait and Atlantic taking over all tug work in Halifax.
Then there were some disastrous northern towing contracts when Point Halifax was badly damaged and eventually sold to McKeil and Svitzer Bedford suffered a serious fire.

However last year signaled a turn around when Svitzer brought in the former Chinese tug Svitzer Cartier to help out in Port Cartier, QC. (I hear that contract is about to end however)

Svitzer Wombi arrived in Halifax March 30, 2015, where it was renamed Svitzer Cartier for service in Port-Cartier.

Also Svitzer won a contract to service the Baffinland Iron Mine project and brought in Svtizer Nerthus and Svitzer Njal from the parent company in Denmark. Both tugs were built in Canada however and passed to Svitzer through other Danish owners.

The Baffinland work was originally awarded to Océan, and on the strength of it they started work on two 8,000 bhp super ice class tugs at their own yard. By the time Océan Tundra. was delivered Baffinland was restructured and  became a seasonal operation in 2015 and Svitzer got the work. Construction of the sister Océan Taiga was slowed down as there was no apparent work for it. It will be completed in 2016.

The powerful Océan Tundra was built for year-round service in Baffin Island. When that work fell through it has been used for tanker escort on the St.Lawrence, but has been underutilized.

If Svitzers two tugs, acquired for Baffinland, are now based in Montreal, will they abandon the port from July to October or does Svitzer have another plan?  Or perhaps Baffinland has slowed down again. Maybe acquiring Océan Taiga and Océan Tundra from Océan would be a good idea, but I doubt they would get any break on price! Certainly reassigning the V-S tug Svitzer Cartier to Montreal does not seem like a good fit.

Svitzer worldwide, like one of its component companies, the former Cory Towage of Liverpool, NS, have long favoured terminal contracts, where they get a long term commitment to provide dedicated tug service to an oil terminal or a particular port. Competing head to head for work has never been to their liking.

Svitzer is part of the giant AP Moller Maersk company, but with only one Maersk ship a week in Montreal, there is hardly enough ''family work'' to support two tugs.
Increased tanker traffic on Montreal, some of which may require escort tugs, might be enough to justify the move if Svitzer has contracts in hand with specific companies.

Svitzer is a deep pocket company that is far more aggressive in the rest of the world than it has appeared to be in Canada. Their world wide fleet consists of 430 vessels (which includes some pilot boats and line boats, but is mostly tugs.) is continually growing as they find work in all corners of the globe and grow their fleet. Perhaps they have bigger plans for Canada than we can imagine.

For example there are still two more Canadian built tugs in Svitzer's European fleet. Both 5,000 bhp ice class ASDs, Svitzer Nabi (built as Stevns Breaker) and Svitzer Nari (ex Stevns Battler) might be available to Svitzer Canada if there was work here.

Once unthinkable mergers and new ventures among tug companies world wide, are common these days. Long time rivals have joined forces, for example Smit and Kooren in Europe, to exercise control and eliminate costly competition. Or as did Kooren in Hamburg, they have brought in superior equipment to take work away from the established companies.

McKeil tried to break into Montreal, and even acquired a pair of Dutch V-S tugs in 2008, but the project never got across the starting line and the tugs were sold. 
Nicloe M was one of the tugs McKeil bought and reconditioned  for use in Montreal. It was never licensed for service in Canada and was sold.

It makes one wonder if tug and towing will go they way of many other industries, where local owner entrepreneurs are swallowed up or overwhelmed by large multi-nationals, with deep pockets, low margins and economies of scale.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

More tug updates

The tugs Svitzer Njal and Svitzer Nerthus are underway again and are upbound on the St.Lawrence River, giving a March 10 destination of Montreal. Stranger and stranger.

Atlantic Fir has settled in in Halifax and will be assigned here permanently, replacing Atlantic Larch. Halifax needed more horsepower, and Fir's 5,000 bhp will allow it to do escort work., This will avoid the crazy situation where two tugs were used as stern escort, when the other 5,000 bhp tug, Atlantic Oak was not available.  See:
Fir escorted the loaded tanker Afra Oak outbound this morning.

Atlantic Larch will now be an outside tug, used for towing assignments around the region. It was built originally for use at Point Tupper. It will now be based nominally in Saint John, but will be on the move most of the time.
Larch is giving a March 17 ETA for Colon, Panama and Corbin Foss with the former Protecteur in tow is now off Acapulco, still giving a March 17 ETA for Balboa.

Ocean Foxtrot is still in Marystown, NL.