Sunday, February 7, 2016

Atlantic Fir - with a little help from my friends

The tug Atlantic Fir made it into Halifax today with the barge Oceanus - but not without the help of all three of Atlantic towing's harbour tugs.

Atlantic Fir (left) has the tow and Atlantic Oak is providing steering from the stern of the barge. Atlantic Larch is nosing up on the barge's starboard bow and Atlantic Willow is standing off the port bow as the barge begins to make its eastward turn off Ferguson's Cove.

Originally scheduled to arrive yesterday afternoon, the tug and barge put back out to the anchorages for about 24 hours while some mechanical and electrical problems were rectified. Then in perfect conditions it entered the harbour this afternoon, keeping to the western channel, but there was no other traffic at the time so there was lots of room to maneuver into the IEL dock in Dartmouth. (The western channel is deeper, and less likely to snag a heavy tow line.)

 Atlantic Fir is leaving the western deepwater channel (the towline is just visible).

Atlantic Oak with the stern line is ready to swing the barge back into the main channel.

The barge Oceanus is registered in the United States, but is working in Canada under coasting license from September 15, 2015 until September 14, 2016. It was brought in by ATL to make multiple trips from Port aux Basques, Cow Head and Bay Bulls with components for the Hebron Topsides Project. (The topsides will be mated to the gravity base at Bull Arm once the latter is completed). The components include the 400 ft x 100 ft, 340 tonne flare boom, the 5200 tonne drilling support, helideck and lifeboat station components ranging from 30 to 213 tonnes.

Built in 2010 by Gunderson Marine LLC the 7913 grt barge measures 384 ft x 105 ft x 25 ft deep.   It is owned by Ulysses LLC of Belle Chasse, LA.

Atlantic Fir is a near sister to the Halifax based Atlantic Oak, a 5050 bhp ASD, built in 2005, with 68 tonne bollard pull and fire fighting gear. It differs visually from the Oak chiefly due to the large sat nav dome, fitted because it does ocean towing.

Earlier in the day Atlantic Towing called on Svitzer to provide the tug Svitzer Njal to assist with both container ships EM Kea and CMA CGM Titus in place of Atlantic Oak. Svitzer Njal and sister Svitzer Nerthus are wintering in Halifax until they go north again in July. Since Atlantic Towing Ltd and Svitzer operate the tugs in Halifax and Point Tupper in a joint venture, we might see this happen again from time to time. It would certainly avoid the kind of double escort we saw yesterday, which is really quite unsatisfactory for a number of reasons.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Atlantic Larch and Atlantic Willow on a Double Date

Large ships transiting the Narrows of Halifax Harbour are required to have a tethered escort tug. The designated tug is Atlantic Oak, which has more than 5,000 bhp is set up for the work with some special strain gauges and an escort skeg.

The other two harbour tugs Atlantic Larch and Atlantic Willow  at 4,000 bhppull are considerably less powerful and do not have the hull escort skeg.
This afternoon when Halifax Express was due to sail from the Fairview Cove container terminal, Atlantic Oak was on standby for another job (see below) and was not available and so the other tugs did the job in tandem.

Each with a line to the ship's quarters, I am sure they were able to assist the ship in making its turn past the Pier 9 knuckle, however Atlantic Willow gave her line an awful lot of scope for such a narrow channel. Also with the two tugs as close as they were, I am not sure they would have been very good at braking if they had to stop the ship. They would clearly have been in each other's way.

It was not an ideal arrangement, but I guess it had to be done on time, since the next section of the Macdonald Bridge was coming out, and it was probably desirable to have the big ship well past when that was happening.

The bridge deck is undergoing replacement in sections, starting from the Dartmouth side (left in this picture), and although the work is so far not over the main harbour channel, it is just as well to keep shipping away to avoid wake. The old bridge sections are landed on a barge and the new sections lifted from the same barge, and great precision is needed. The barge is handled by the tugs Belle D and Halifax Tugger with assistance from Captain Jim. For more on these see: 

Atlantic Oak was standing by to assist sister tug Atlantic Fir and the barge Oceanus arriving from Newfoundland. More on that tomorrow.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Criag Trans - it's still not over

The story of the tug Craig Trans should have been over long before now, but it seems that another chapter will be added on February 17. On that date bids will be opened at the office of Cox+Palmer, attorneys, after its most recent owner walked away from the tug (or perhaps more accurately he ran away).

The tug's story as far as Halifax was concerned began with its arrival here December 18, 2012, but in fact it started in 1943 at Tampa Machine Corp where it was built for the US Army's Transportation Corps as LT-648. I told a bit about its subsequent career as Craig Foss on this blog December 18, 2012., but to summarize the legendary Seattle operators, the Foss Maritime Company acquired the tug from the Army in 1960, but kept it mothballed until 1966 when they overhauled it completely, and installed two new GM-EMD engines of 2,000 bhp each, replacing the single Fairbanks Morse. Foss completed all the work at its own shipyard in 1967.

For the first few years of its life with Foss the tug was constantly towing a log barge barge back and forth to Hawaii (40 days each way). Then in 1972 it towed a barge load of lumber from Coos Bay, OR to Camden, NJ and Portsmouth, NH, returning it empty to Mobile  AB. Its seagoing capabilities were never in doubt.

The tug towed regularly on the west coast including many trips to Alaska until 1978 when it made another tow to the east coast, this time from Tacoma, WA to Chester, PA Earl, NJ, Norfolk, VA and Charleston, SC. It then went on to Bay City, MI  to tow a dredge to Baltimore, MD, tow scows to Puerto Cabello,  Venezuela, and two offshore suppliers to Seattle. It was then back to Alaska runs until the early 2000s when the tug was laid up and sold in 2011.

It then entered a shady period where its movements become hard to trace. It did show up September 8, 2012 as Craig Trans when it towed the derelict ferry Queen of Saanich from Anvil Island BC to Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico for scrap. The old Swartz Bay-Tsawassan ferry, built in 1963 had been sold by BC Ferries in 2008 and ended up arrested and derelict until a Federal Court ordered sale in January 2012. It was moored on Anvil Island while copper was stripped out, then towed away.

In its prime, Queen of Saanich was one of BC Ferries stalwarts, but ended up in Mexico for scrap, towed by Craig Trans

When Craig Trans put in here in December 2012 it was en route to Beauharnois, QC to tow away the derelict Kathryn Spirit - see Shipfax   but the crew was without food and the tug was unlikely to get to Beauharnois before the close of the navigation season.
Once tied up at pier 25 it was found to be in despicable condition. Some 53 deficiencies were listed by Port State Control. See these photos and report. The owner, Vesta Shipping, owned by a US based Haitian arrived in Halifax then disappeared, abandoning tug and crew. The latter were repatriated thanks to the generosity of donors and the Mission to Seafarers, but the tug was eventually auctioned off. Its sale price came no where near compensating the agents, the Port, the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, and other creditors who were saddled with the tug for months, keeping it afloat and preventing it from polluting the harbour.

I made several more posts over that time December 20, January 30, 2013 , May 18 , July 28
and perhaps some others until the time of its sale.

The buyer was identified as a local ship breaker, but a number of his previous purchases have since sunk or have been abandoned - or both - in various Nova Scotia ports. The tug, which had elapsed (or falsified) Bolivian registry, was then registered in Canada as a "yacht" - thus freeing it from any regulations covering commercial vessels.

It ended up at the Secunda pier in Wright's Cove, Bedford Basin where the scrapper has now apparently given up ownership. The pier is in poor condition and will likely be dismantled and the tug must go somewhere else.

Craig Trans will have to move from the Secunda pier. In this September 2015 photo the Waterworks barge Commdive II was tied up there when it was working nearby.

With the current state of the scrap metal market it won't fetch much at this sale. Let's hope no one thinks they can rehabilitate it and put it back in service, or get it running as a "yacht". One only has to recall the ill fated coaster Fermont that left Halifax under a Kentucky yacht license and within days wrecked on Seal Island. It cost the Canadian tax payer a small fortune to clean up back in 1991. See my Navigation-Quebec blog  Poste #27  for more on Fermont.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Techno-St-Laurent under the torch

As reported in Boatnerd January 24 the Techno-St-Laurent is now being cut up at Port Colborne, ON. After languishing in the scrap yard since 2006, the tug's end is finally in sight.

Built as Riverton in 1944 it was one of the eight strong  Norton class of tugs for the Royal Canadian Navy. They were to be used for towing gunnery targets, general towing, salvage and ship berthing. They were armed with a Lewis gun and ice strengthened. After World War II ended, four were sold for civilian use and four retained by the Navy. Soon after that the four were assigned to the Canadian Naval Auxiliary fleet and instead of the 26 navy crew, they were manned by a civilian crew that varied in number depending on duty.
They were powerful tugs for the day with a 1,000 bhp Dominion Sulzer direct drive diesel engine. They were also fitted with a towing winch, 1.5 ton derrick and they were ice strengthened.
Riverton's construction was contracted to Canadian Bridge Co of Walkerville, ON, but construction was transferred to Chantier Maritime de St-Laurent, at St-Laurent, Ile d'Orléans, Quebec.
Riverton was based in Halifax but traveled widely as the following photos show.

As HMCS Riverton the tug wore pennant number W-47 and carried a large military crew. 
(Photo taken in St.John's, Newfoundland.)

Post war the tug was fitted with radar (the antenna is atop the main mast) and painted in naval auxiliary colours. (Photo taken in St.John's, Newfoundland.)

The main mast and derrick were later removed and a small derrick fitted to the funnel. It carried the pennant number ATA-528. (Photo taken in Digby, NS.)

In 1979 the navy sold Riverton to Techno Maritime of Quebec City and it was renamed Techno-St-Laurent  at the Dartmouth Marine Slip before sailing to its new home port.

At Dartmouth Marine Slips, and newly renamed, it shares a berth with the coaster Mount Blair and the tug Karob. In the background CCGS Sir William Alexander (i), Louis S. St-Laurent and Labrador have just just returned from spring icebreaking. 
Later  in Quebec City with the launch tug Techno-Mingan, the tug is in pusser naval condition. complete with impressive rope pudding on the bow.

Seen from the stern with Techno-Manic alongside. With the smaller civilian crew it carried only one lifeboat. stowed amidships.

It was given a major refit in 1982-83, and received a "new" Sulzer engine rated at 1100 bhp. The owners were also renamed Techno-Navigation in the same year.

Techno acquired the sister tug Capitaine Simard, ex Birchton and salvaged many spares and other parts before sending it to scrap at Petite-Rivière-St-François. The ship on the right is Petrel V, which became the tall ship Caledonia in 2002.)

By 1992 the tug was looking a bit tired, and was laid up at Ile-aux-Coudres before getting another refit.

Back in Quebec City, the tug looked very smart after a complete repainting. It is tied up with the Public Works tug Feuille d'Érable (ex Foundation Viceroy) and the dredge DPW 130 (now Harbour Development's D-6.)

Eventually the tug migrated to McKeil ownership and headed up through the Seaway November 30, 1997 for Toronto and on to Buffalo, NY to pick up the barge Dupuis No.10. However the barge sank December 24, and the tug remained on the Lakes thereafter.
Even though it was retired and out of service in Hamilton, ON, it was renamed Kirstin in 2001. That name was never applied but was its official name.

In the fall of 2006 it was finally towed to Port Colborne at tied up at the IMS scrap yard where it is now under the torch.

There is one Norton tug still service in Canada. The former Norton works in Thunder Bay, ON as Peninsula, and is likely the sole remaining tug of its class.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Maersk Cutter - finds work

Although Maersk Canada would prefer to have the mammoth tug/supplier Maersk Cutter fully employed, it's ready ability certainly came in handy this week.

When the tanker British Merlin experienced a turbocharger malfunction, Maersk Cutter was called in take it in tow. The 63,661 grt, 114,761 dwt tanker was loaded with crude oil from Whiffen Head, NL for Philadelphia when it encountered the problem, and is now due to arrive in Halifax Sunday morning January 24 on the end of Maersk Cutter's tow wire.

It raises the question again of Canada's need for Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs). Though comparatively rarely needed on Canada's east coast, there are occasions when a powerful tug is called for. Most similar vessels are employed servicing offshore petroleum work and are not standing by for ETV work. In this case the almost new Maersk Cutter 13,142 bhp has not found regular work since it arrived from the Asenav shipyard in Chile in September 2015, and could be called in when needed.

Secunda Canada's Ryan Leet has been on standby in Sydney "on spec" for towing work. However its 8800 bhp would be barely sufficient for a vessel the size of British Merlin . Similarly sized container ships and bulkers are also active in the region, and with winter upon us, with its attendant ice in the Gulf of St.Lawrence, caualties are bound to arise.

The container ship MSC Monica, although much smaller, ran aground in flowing ice in the upper St.Lawrence River this week and will need to be lightered off before it can be refloated. Local tugs will be more than capable of that operation, but it is a reminder that accidents will happen.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Svitzer Nerthus and Svitzer Njal - home again

A pair of Svitzer tugs have arrived back in Halifax after many months away.

Svitzer Nerthus and Svitzer Njal , acquired by Svitzer Canada last year from their parent company, were contracted to work at the Baffin Island port of Milne Inlet during last year's brief arctic summer shipping season. They assisted bulk carriers into the remote port to load iron ore from the Baffinland Iron mine at Mary River, operated by ArcelorMittal.

After fitting out in Halifax, the tugs headed north in July, to rendez-vous with the first ship of the season, Federal Tiber. At the end of the shipping season in October the two tugs made their way south to Point Tupper for a crew change then carried on to Bermuda, bypassing Halifax.

In Bermuda they assisted the bulk carrier Balder for seven loads of granite fill for the new South Basin. The granite came from Cape Porcupine, on the Strait of Canso, and was unloaded into a 9 acre fill area. Each shipment took up to 36 hours to unload, with frequent repositionings of the ship. In total Balder delivered some 175,000 cubic yards of granite, between November 6 and January 10.
The ship was one of the largest ships to enter Bermuda's Great Sound and required the assistance of two powerful tugs at all times.

Bermuda does have its own local tugs, Powerful and Faithful, but they are fully occupied with normal port activity. The 3,000 bhp tugs are notable as the last tugs built by the well known Cochrane shipbuilders in Selby, England in 1992.

The South Basin area will be the site of a new village to support the 2017 Americas Cup yacht races. See:


Monday, January 11, 2016

Navy tug plan - again

The Royal Canadian Navy has been looking at the idea of replacing its current fleet of tugs for several years. They are taking a long time to decide what to do, likely exacerbated by the recent federal election. With a new party in power there will be much going back over already plowed ground, and very likely the political masters will decide to plow new furrows perpendicular to the previous ones.

 Glenevis (rear) built in 1976, Merrickville (middle) built in 1974 and Firebird (fore) built in 1978.

The navy currently operates five harbor tugs (3 in Halifax, 2 in Esquimalt) of the Glen class built in the 1970s. Underpowered by current standards at 1750 bhp, and a 19 tonne bollard pull, they are however highly agile with V-S propulsion systems and short sea towing capability. The also have some fire fighting gear, but it is not up to the standard of a fire tug.
The navy also had.two fireboats, but they retired the Halifax boat Firebird in 2014. Both were purpose built and carried a crew of trained firefighters. Those firefighters now augment the tug crews if needed in an emergency.
The navy also has five smaller tugs of the Ville class that operate within the naval dockyards and handle barges, oil booms, and assist in ship docking. There has been no mention of replacing them, but they are even older.
It should be noted that all these tugs are operated by civilian crews, working under the jurisdiction of the Queen's Harbour Master.

Both classes of tugs and the fireboats were built for navy use and responded to the specific needs of the navy and the physical features of the naval dockyards. The two most obvious of those are the relatively light displacement of navy ships and the very tight confines between the jetties. This is where the current class V-S tugs show their worth, by fitting into the tight spaces without having to square up, and where high horsepower is not really needed.

When large naval ships from other navies come to Halifax they use civilian pilots and commercial tugs. This is a necessity since the civilian harbor pilots from the Atlantic Pilotage Authority work with the commercial tugs daily and have established communication protocols and know the capabilities of the tugs.

The exception of course is visiting nuclear submarines, which are handled exclusively by navy tugs, but with civilian pilots.

Canadian navy ships use navy berthing pilots and their own tugs and have entirely different commands and are familiar with the tugs' capabilities. The navy pilots are berthing pilots only and board the navy ships from the tugs or from launch boats, and do not do navigation even in the harbour..

The navy will be acquiring larger ships in the coming years (but it is still many years before the current frigates are replaced with cruisers, and new supply ships arrive). More horsepower may be warranted by then, and certainly the current stable of tugs will be well past old age at that time.

 The navy does call in more powerful tugs from time to time, such as for the cold move of HMCS Preserver. When it banged into the Novadock in 2011, causing half a million dollars of damage to itself, it could could have used more powerful tugs.

However the navy is also looking at privatizing the delivery of tug services to its naval bases, by inviting in private operators to take over tug work.

A 4,000 bhp civilian 50 tonne bollard pull tug, such as Atlantic Larch, at left, is quite standard in Canadian ports these days. 
With 1750 bhp and 19 tonnes bollard pull Glenbrook is inadequate for most work.

It seems to me that the main issue then must be minimizing employment costs by reducing crew size. Wages and benefits are considerably lower in private industry and thus attractive to cost planners. Enhanced firefighter training and the handling of nuclear submarines however might reduce that cost gap. However most current tugs are designed for a harbour crew of three, so any new tug would be able to operate with a smaller crew - naval or civilian.

Newer tugs would certainly be nice, as would more power, but a leap to 4,000 to 5,000 bhp seems to be an unnecessary initial cost, since that kind of power is rarely if ever needed by the navy. On the other hand, tugs with less than that amount of power would never be of use to civilian operators in most ports, particularly Halifax, and would be confined to use for the navy only. [But see below for other propulsion options]

Firefighting is also almost standard these days on harbour tugs. Two of the civilian tugs in Halifax have that capability now, which exceeds the capability of anything the navy has.

Atlantic Oak is one of two tugs in Halifax with extensive firefighting equipment. Trained firefighters would be needed to augment the usual crew in case of a serious fire.

Enhanced sea keeping would be desirable since the tugs need to tow small ships to Shelburne, Pictou and should be able to tow to St.John's and St.Lawrence ports for refits. The navy will be getting rid of its smaller ships, but there does seem to be a need to tow larger ships from time to time, so accommodation for larger crews for that duty seems reasonable.Those moves are so rare however that hiring in a tug from time to time would make as much sense in my mind.
(The unfortunate Athabaskan tow cannot be blamed entirely on civilian tugs - whoever decided that towing a dead ship form the Great Lakes to Halifax in winter should bear the majority of the onus for that fiasco.)

Hybrid or alternative fuel power systems would seem to be absolutely essential to meet the government's desire to be a leader in environmental matters. Of course the navy would not like their tug budget to be used up with costly experimental technologies, but there are enough proven systems out there now that premiums could be kept low. It is also time that the navy, and all other government departments lived up to environmental realities.

Hybrid systems allow for economical operation when less than maximum power is needed. Tugs can operate on batteries and auxiliaries for much of the time and only fire up all power when needed to push or pull a ship. The rest of the time, while in standby, or moving from pier to pier, they are on auxiliary backup or battery power.

In previous requests for interest for new tugs the navy seemed to indicate that ASD tugs were the expected propulsion system. I question how well these would work in the confines of the Halifax Dockyard, where V-S tugs are clearly justified. ASD tugs can sidestep but they lose power when doing so.

V-S propulsion can thrust in any direction by changing the pitch of the vertical blades. The tug does not have to change position. The old drawback of constant engine revs, no matter the demand, has been resolved with newer technology.

Conventional stern or bow mounted ASD systems can push or pull with almost equal force, but are much less effective sidestepping due to interference between the two rotating propulsion units.

Several recent new tug designs, such as the EDDY tug would also work, so I hope the navy is open minded enough to consider a variety of options.

The Eddy tug has two in line ASD units - one at the bow and one at the stern. They can push broadside on without interference. The tugs are also bi-directional - ship docking over the stern and going to sea bow first- and they need only one winch.

The call for two winches is also an unneeded expense depending on the tug configuration. Many tug designs now allow for bi-directional operation so that only one winch is required. The same winch is used for ship berthing and ship towing and the tug is designed to operate stern first in one mode and bow first in the other.  In fact the current navy tugs do this with only one winch.
Z-Tech tugs, now in wide use in ports such as Singapore and Houston, work very adequately with one winch, and are bi-directional, Depending on requirements, they can run bow or stern first equally well. Star Opal is running at high speed stern first in the lower picture, but can go to sea bow first (as in the orientation of the model in the upper picture)

Recent material seems to indicate that the navy would accept tugs of up to 5 years old. Sorry to say, but even five year old technology is ancient in the rapidly evolving tug industry. They really ought to be looking at something that will not be obsolete when delivered.

I have some suggestions:

1. Buy a low cost proven design.The Dutch designer/builder Damen is building three tugs for the Dutch navy and two for Sweden's navy with slight variations. Canada should be able to piggy back on these, and in fact could order kits from Damen for assembly in Canada. At least two Canadian  Shipyards have experience in building Damen kits (Halifax Shipyard built the Coast Guard patrol boats and Groupe Océan built a dredge with Damen parts.) These are also hydrid tugs.
See this article describing the tugs:,-towing-and-salvage/newbuild-tugs-for-dutch-and-swedish-navies

2. Whatever they do, look for latest technology, high efficiency hybrid, dual or alternate fuel systems and defray some of the added cost with R&D funding for the environment. There are leading edge Canadian technologies out there that need to be promoted, both at home and abroad. This would be a great boost for them.
Bernardus  is just one of many hydrid tugs operational today.
3. Go with a performance based private contractor with a ten year change out policy for brand new  tugs, so that only the latest technology is used. The contractor would be given five years to provide brand new tugs (one per year) each to operate for a stated period. At the end of each period the contractor would provide a brand new replacement tug. He could sell or fold into his own fleet the tugs coming off hire from the navy when they are still worth something on the open market.
This program could go on virtually for ever and ensure a continually renewing tug fleet and an allowing it to evolve as technology matures. It could also help to support a tug building shipyard with a steady flow of work.

In conclusion I will sorry to see the old Glen tugs go - they have been a fixture on the harbour for so long, but change they must.

Glenside makes its way across Bedford Basin on a wintery day.