Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Harley Marine Services


The LEED Gold-certified Harley and Lela Franco Maritime Center, located among the container terminals on Seattle's Harbor Island, houses the company's offices in Seattle as well as hosts receptions for commercial maritime events and the numerous charities with which the Francos are involved. Photo courtesy of Mithun architects.

What began 28 years ago as a one tug, one barge operation is now a leading 21st century marine business committed to efficiency, safety, environmental stewardship and community.

Headquartered in Seattle, Harley Marine Services, Inc. (HMS) and its eight subsidiary companies, provide services including the transportation and storage of petroleum products, general cargo transportation, tanker escort, ship assist and rescue towing in the US which includes the west coast, Alaska, New York Harbor, the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River system.

While the company has enjoyed steady growth, the past five years have been particularly busy. The fleet of tugs and barges has grown to well over 100. In 2012 alone, HMS added 10 new double-hull petroleum barges and seven new tugs to its fleet.

Part of that fleet of seven has included five tractor tugs; three named for members of Chairman & CEO Harley Franco's family members – the Francos also have a long-running tradition of naming their vessels after inspirational people.

During 2013, HMS took delivery of the M/V Bob Franco, named after Harley Franco's late father. The ABS Ice Class vessel is a Jensen Maritime Consultants' 120 Class tug design, fitted with Caterpillar C175-16 Tier III engines has more than 5,300 hp and a bollard pull of 70 tons. The tug is also equipped with Shibata and looped fendering and a ship assist hawser winch on the bow to allow for effective docking and maneuvering of vessels calling into port. She works for HMS' customers in Nikiski, Alaska.

The M/V Robert Franco, named for Harley's son and the M/V Ahbra Franco, named after Harley's daughter, have a propulsion package that produces more than 90 tons of bollard pull with a combined horsepower of 6,850 with Caterpillar 3516C diesel Tier III engines and two CAT C9 generators. The vessels are also outfitted with a Technicold by Northern Lights HVAC system. Two Markey winches – one forward for ship assist and one aft for towing – and Smith Berger tow pins aft, make up the deck machinery on the boats., which also feature the latest Tier III engines. Both vessels are 100 feet by 40 feet with a Z-configuration and built by Nichols Bros. Boat Builders.

Ahbra Franco's engines are turbocharged and aftercooled with a common rail injection fuel system and electronically controlled injectors, and the use of electric rather than hydraulic deck machinery on the new boat further reduces environmental impact. Ahbra Franco works in San Francisco Harbor as a ship assist vessel for HMS' Starlight Marine. Robert Franco is a ship assist and tanker escort tug working for both HMS' Millennium Maritime and HMS in the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors. These tugs reflect the company's commitment to building Harbor class tugs with more horsepower and bollard pull to meet new regulations and the needs of larger ships.

Earlier this year, Harley Marine entered the ATB market. The new addition, based at HMS' Olympic Tug & Barge, is plying the waters of the west coast. Harley Marine partnered with Zidell Marine Corporation of Portland, Oregon and Conrad Industries of Morgan City, Louisiana on the project.

The 422-foot double-hulled barge, with the capacity to carry 80,000 barrels, is named Dr. Robert J. Beall after the President & CEO of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a physician the Francos greatly admire for his work in trying to find a cure for the debilitating disease.

The 116-foot, twin-screw, 4,070 horsepower tug is named Emery Zidell after the founder of Zidell Marine Corporation, who was a mentor to both Harley and his wife Lela. The technically-advanced ATB allows Harley Marine to provide faster delivery and reliability in adverse weather conditions. It uses less fuel on coastal deliveries and on longer voyages, it gives the vessel crew safe and secure access to the barge and cargo tanks during transportation.

In fact, two more ATBs will soon join the fleet. The recently-delivered barge Fight Fanconi Anemia will be matched with the tug Jake Shearer. The barge is named for a rare inherited blood disorder – another cause that the Francos are passionate about – the disease has affected two members of the extended Franco working family, one of whom has already lost the fight. The Shearer tug is named for one of HMS' long-time board member and friend's nephew. And the barge Fight A.L.S., expected to be delivered later this year, will be matched with the tug Barry Silverton, named for a board member's father who died from Lou Gehrig's disease (A.L.S.).

"We're heading in the direction of articulated tug and barges," says CEO Harley Franco. "And we'll continue to grow in that area for coastal offshore work. We think that gives our customers steadier service than conventional tow-wire vessels."

This year, HMS added two of the most powerful ship assist tugs yet. The Michelle Sloan, delivered this past spring, embodies the persona of a dear family friend who passed on last year after a 12-year battle with breast cancer. The Lela Franco, named for Harley's wife, is her sister tug. The two vessels are identically built and represent the most environmentally responsible and technically advanced equipment. Both are working in Los Angeles Harbor.

"All of our ATBs and our new tractor tugs are Tier III vessels," says Franco. "On the existing vessels in our fleet we're replacing the engines with Tier III and the newbuilds on the higher horsepowers will be Tier IV. The newest tug we're building – the Earl W. Redd – will be the first Caterpillar Tier IV engine in a tugboat."

Harley Marine has long been known to value its employees, vendors, customers and community partners. In 2013, the company's new Seattle headquarters LEED Gold-certified building was unveiled. Named the Harley and Lela Franco Maritime Center, the 45,000-square-foot facility incorporates an open space concept that utilizes solar power and water conservation, and is a place where employees can flourish. A new LEED building is also the plan for the Houston based location of HMS' Gulf operations.

As part of the company's green initiatives, numerous Harley Marine executives located at the various ports in which the company operates sit on key Harbor safety committees and on various American Waterways Operators committees and other maritime groups. "We want to be at the forefront of involvement of setting the standards and raising the bar versus following the pack," explains Franco. "We want to be pushing others in our industry to do the things that we're doing."

Harley and Lela Franco name much of the company's floating equipment after people who have inspired them, including as this Articulated Tug and Barge (ATB) unit Emery Zidell and Dr. Robert J. Beall. Photo courtesy of Harley Marine Services.

Over the past 24 years, Harley Marine has been recognized with more than 30 awards for environmental stewardship best practices, safety, leadership, sustainability and philanthropy, given by community, state and industry. Highlights of the 2015 awards to date include finalist in the Lloyd's List Awards for Environmental Excellence and the Outstanding Philanthropic Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Franco can't say enough about those who work with him. "I'm very fortunate to have long-standing employees; some who started as deckhands are now senior operations people and those who started as accountants are senior financial officers," he boasts. "We have a variety of great talented, innovative people. We're a family committed to the same values and culture. We really want to be known as a quality operation. We're focused on the whole package – giving back to the community, our employees and customers."

Franco continues to navigate Harley Marine Services toward continued growth and success. He believes a solid, sustainable maritime business can be both pro business and pro green. "I think we've demonstrated that with the award-winning LEED building that we operate in and the vessels we're building."


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