Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Jim Shaw 

Offshore and Coastal Towing


Crowley's Seattle-based naval architecture and marine engineering subsidiary Jensen Maritime has been examining the use of LNG as a fuel for a number of new vessels, including this LNG-powered ice-breaking tug designed for Arctic waters. Photo courtesy of Crowley.

The towing industry has been playing second fiddle to the ship assist and escort sectors for many years as new propulsion technologies have been introduced to the latter, including azimuthing and cycloidal drives, but extensive offshore petroleum work has changed that picture and a number of new towing tugs and specialized barges are being built. This has seen Crowley Maritime introduce its four Ocean class tugs, two of which recently towed the Shell offshore rig Polar Pioneer to Alaska (see Pacific Maritime Magazine, July 2015), while Foss has been turning out three arctic class boats at its Rainier, Oregon yard, one already making an Alaska sealift from Asia. Upriver from the Rainier yard, the JT Marine facility at Vancouver. Washington has completed three long-haul boats for Hyak Maritime, two now working for Crowley, both having recently completed long-distance tows to Africa, and a third under charter to Foss while a fourth is to be built.

In Puget Sound, Nichols Bros. Boatbuilders on Whidbey Island has delivered the 6,800-HP ASD tug Delta Audrey to San Francisco's BayDelta Maritime, with the 90-ton bollard pull vessel fitted for both ship assist and towing duties. Nichols Bros. is also completing two 10,000-hp, 136-foot ATB tugs for Kirby Offshore Marine, which is having two more ATB tugs built on the Great Lakes.

New Tugs and Barges

In Portland, Oregon the Diversified Marine yard has delivered the 80-foot by 36-foot sister tugs Michelle Sloan and Lela Franco to Seattle-based Harley Marine. These are principally for ship assist work but have been fitted out for towing duties. Next up for Harley will be the 120-foot by 35-foot Earl W. Redd, to be similar in size to the previously delivered Bob Franco and to have the first Caterpillar Tier IV engine to be installed in a tugboat.

Also at Portland, the Vigor Industrial yard has delivered the first of two 83,000-bbl tank barges it is building for Harley, with the second to be handed over shortly. This is taking place as the yard delivers a series of three pushtugs to Tidewater, with the first, Crown Point, already in service (see Pacific Maritime Magazine, June 2015).

Up river, the Gunderson yard has launched the first of two 185,000-bbl ATB barges it is constructing for Houston-based Kirby. These are ship-size barges that feature ship-type bows and will operate in the coastal petroleum trades. Gunderson has also delivered the 360-foot deck barge Foss 3612 to Foss, a barge specifically designed for shallow draft work in the arctic, and has started construction of a 426-foot by 105-foot container barge for Sause Bros. for employment in line-haul operations between the Columbia River and Hawaii.

Chinese Imports

While US barge builders have been turning out a considerable amount of tonnage, not so north of the border where most Canadian companies now go to China for their larger deck and tank barges while Turkey has supplied a number of tugs. Although a 25 percent duty must be paid to import the vessels, and they then have to be transported across the Pacific or Atlantic, the landed cost is still said to be about 20 percent to 30 percent cheaper than local construction. This has seen the Marine division of Canada's Ledcor Group of Companies recently take delivery of a set of six barges manufactured in China, all transported to Vancouver by the 51,500-dwt Chinese semi-submersible Zhen Hua 29. Two of the barges are of 3,800-dwt and measure 73 meters by 18 meters while the other four are of 3,300-dwt and measure 63 meters by 18 meters. All were designed by Capilano Maritime of North Vancouver, British Columbia and built by Mingde Heavy Industry at Nantong, China.

Ledcor's Growing Fleet

Previous to the semi-submersible transported barges, Ledcor had taken delivery of two 5,100-dwt Chinese-built flat-deck cargo barges measuring 80.5-meters by 20-meters, also designed by Capilano Maritime, and one Damen-designed 1,200-HP tugboat. These were towed across the Pacific by Foss Maritime's Sydney Foss, the Damen tug taking a free ride on one of the barges.

Ledcor now has seven tugs and 23 barges in its fleet but plans to add another two tugs before the end of the year. These boats are being completed in Canada by the Bracewell Marine Group yard near Richmond, British Columbia using an A.G. Mcllwain design and will measure 48 feet by 22.5 feet. Each will be powered by twin Caterpillar C18 Acert diesels with a combined output of 1,324 horsepower driving through Twin Disc MG 5170 gearing.

Much of Ledcor's construction boom has been sparked by a long term contract signed with Richmond-based Mainland Sand & Gravel to transport aggregates along the Fraser River.

Long Distance Tows

While the Ledcor tows will be of short distance there have been two very long distance "dead ship" tows accomplished over the past twelve months. The first started in August of last year when the 8,200-HP Foss tug Corbin Foss hitched up to the retired aircraft carrier Constellation at Bremerton, Washington and began moving the vessel to Brownsville, Texas via the Strait of Magellan, a 16,000-mile journey that only came to a conclusion this past January. Like a number of ships taken to Brownsville recently, the aged flattop, completed in 1961 by the New York Navy Yard, is being broken up for scrap by International Shipbreaking Ltd.

Constellation was the last US aircraft carrier to be built at a yard other than Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company and also the only US naval vessel ever authorized to display red, white, and blue designation numbers.

Ranger to Brownsville

A similar tow involving the aircraft carrier Ranger, to the same destination and to the same fate, got underway in March and was completed in mid-July, this time by the 15,000-HP tug Crosby Leader operated by Crosby Tugs of Golden Meadow, Louisiana. Built in 1957, the 1,046-foot Ranger was active for 37 years and was one of the last carriers powered by oil-fired steam turbines as well as one of the first to be fitted with angled flight deck technology. It was also the target of a preservation attempt by the not-for-profit USS Ranger Foundation, which sought to obtain the carrier for display on the Columbia River near Fairview, Oregon, but this plan was eventually rejected by the Navy, as was a later proposal by a group in Long Beach, California.

Ranger's departure leaves just two carriers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard's Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, the 1959-built USS Independence and 1961-built USS Kitty Hawk, with Independence expected to follow Ranger to Texas for demolition later this year.

Montana Makes a Move

Not going quite the distance of the two carriers was the decommissioned 833-foot amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu, which was towed by the 120-foot Foss tug Montana from San Diego to Pearl Harbor earlier this year where the 1980-built vessel was placed into the inactive fleet. As the last active Tarawa-class ship in the Navy, the 25,982-ton light displacement vessel deployed 17 times during its active service life and was the platform for 178,051 flight operations.

The 5,385-HP Montana is one of three towing tugs built by the J.T. Marine yard in Vancouver, Washington for Hyak Maritime using the basic Titan-class hull shape developed by Jensen Maritime in collaboration with Seattle's Western Towboat for long-distance Alaska towing (see Pacific Maritime Magazine, August 2015). Two of the vessels have since been chartered to Crowley, and have made tows across the Atlantic while Foss has chartered Montana.

Line Haul Towing

Coos Bay, Oregon-based Sause Bros. has been operating a line tow between the Columbia River and Hawaii for some time and it is now having another barge built for the trade. The new unit, which will mark 50 years of service to the islands by Sause when it arrives in Hawaii next year, will be a sister to the company's 426-foot by 105-foot Kamakani which was built by Gunderson Marine in Portland and outfitted at Sause Bros.' Shipyard (SOMAR) in Coos Bay during 2008. To be named Namakani, the new barge will join the Kamakani and the 362-foot by 105-foot Columbia, built in 2013, in serving the Hawaiian Islands. Like Kamakani and Columbia, Namakani will benefit from prior research Sause has carried out on fluid dynamics and hull shape to get operational costs down as low as possible.

A similar approach has been taken with the company's tugs and the latest to join the fleet, the 122-foot by 34-foot Black Hawk, will be one of the few on the coast of its size and power range with a round chine hull form. Built by the Gulf Coast's Halter Marine in 1968, the 47-year-old vessel has been heavily reconditioned by SOMAR over the past two years and re-engined with twin MTU 12V4000M53 diesels of 3,700 combined horsepower driving through Reinjtes gears to give a bollard put of 89,000 lbs.

LNG Bunkering

The use of LNG has yet to appear in the towing sector, largely because of the size of the cryogenic tanks needed to give a suitable towing range, but designs for such boats are being drawn up, including an LNG-powered ice-breaking tug put forward by Crowley's Seattle-based Jensen Maritime. Jensen has also designed an articulated tug-barge (ATB) set for the bunkering of LNG, which has recently been granted "approval in principle" by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS). The design incorporates a double-hulled barge measuring 360 feet by 60 feet, and carrying four 1,000 cubic meter capacity Type C LNG tanks pushed by a tug powered by two GE 6L250 Tier 3 engines driving Rolls Royce 205 Z-drives. The combined tug and barge length would be 452 feet while the tug's output of more than 2,000 horsepower would provide a service speed of 12 knots.

In addition to the LNG, which would be enough to fill up a large container ship twice, the ocean-rated ATB would be capable of carrying 30,800 gallons of fresh water and 90,100 gallons of Ballast Water while providing accommodation space for 12 crewmembers. It would also be classed as a firefighting vessel (FFV-1) that would satisfy most requirements to have at least one FFV-classed tug escorting LNG tankers into port.

Jensen vice president Johan Sperling notes that the vessel, which could be built in between 18 and 30 months, offers customers "an economical alternative" to sourcing from LNG terminals or trucking LNG to multiple ports while the vessel itself would have an operational flexibility beyond intracoastal waterways.

Conventional Bunkering

Representing one of the more complicated tows to Alaska this season has been the drilling rig Polar Pioneer, which arrived in Puget Sound on the Dockwise semi-submersible Blue Marlin, seen here being assisted by the Foss tug Andrew Foss, and was later towed north by Crowley Maritime's 10,880-HP twins Ocean Wind and Ocean Wave. Photo by Jordyn Lerum courtesy of Foss Maritime.

Beyond LNG the conventional bunkering market is seeing several new barges built and a number of others modified to handle more marine gas oil (MGO) along the coast. This is because of new regulations, which went into effect at the start of the year, that extended the coastal operating zone where ships must burn low-sulfur fuel to 200 miles offshore. Late last year the Vigor Industrial yard at Seattle delivered the 15,000-barrel double-hulled bunker barge Global Pilot to Seattle-based Maxum Petroleum.

Designed by Seattle's Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) for operational flexibility as well as lower building costs, the new barge has dimensionally identical cargo tanks, corrugated plate tank bulkheads and plate seams arranged to maximize material usage of standard 8-foot and 10-foot steel plates. It also features a recessed machinery space aft for improved visibility and a state-of-the-art tankerman's office. It is one of a growing number of barges that have been built by Vigor to EBDG's designs over the past decade.

In southern California Foss Maritime has had two of its tank barges equipped to handle more MGO, with Foss barge FDH 35-4 having four of its ten tanks prepped for the fuel. Crews also installed a centrifugal pump on the barge that is capable of loading 1,625 barrels per hour plus a system that injects red dye into the diesel oil to distinguish it as a marine fuel for tax purposes. The MGO tanks on FDH 35-4 have a 12,000-bbl capacity while a second double-hulled Foss barge has been refitted to carrying about 6,000 bbls of MGO.


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