Company Profile: Vane Brothers
May 1, 2019
The Vane Brothers Company may be new to the west coast, but the marine transportation provider, focused on moving petroleum products using tugboats and barges, has been a legendary fixture on the East Coast waterfront since 1898, when Captain William Burke Vane and his older brother, Allen P. Vane, first arrived in Baltimore to open a ship chandlery called Vane Brothers.
Over the course of its 121-year history, the business has expanded in strategic ways, balancing business growth with the changing times of the maritime industry.
In the early years the business acquired shipyards and schooners, but by the 1960s the company began seeking ways to diversify. In a move to expand its gas oil business, the company built a 42,000-gallon tanker for $80,000 in 1971.
The 1980s meant significant growth for the company, which brought on C. Duff Hughes as a junior partner. Hughes, who would later become president in 1992, expanded the company's fuel delivery and service capabilities when he established Vane Line Fuel in 1985. The company purchased the Marine Launch Company, which provides local delivery service for marine lubricants, in 1986. A year later, the company bought its first 15,000-barrel, double-hulled, black oil bunker barge.
The 1990s saw the company's fleet and business growing with the acquisitions of Allied Towing's bunkering division and Norfolk-based marine transport company, Piney Point Transportation, as well as the purchase of three pieces of Sun Transport equipment that enabled the company to expand into the transportation of gasoline and other light oils in the Philadelphia market. In 1995, Vane Brothers Marine Safety and Services was created, offering sales and maintenance of marine gear for ships and pleasure craft up and down the East Coast.
By 2005, the company that started with a pair of brothers had grown to a firm of more than 200 people based in Baltimore.
This history of strategic growth has prepared Vane for its modern day expansion, with the building of the 3,000-horsepower tugboat Sassafras, the first in a series that will reach 18 tugs by 2020.
In 2010, the company also broadened its reach farther east by providing bunkering operations in New York Harbor, and to the south to Charleston, South Carolina.
This led to a series of acquisitions: Chatham-Colonial Towing Company's fleet of ship bunkering equipment that serves Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville; four tugboats and five barges from the Kirby Corporation in New York Harbor, and four vessels from a Kirby-owned subsidiary in Philadelphia.
Vane also inked contracts for the delivery of nine new barges: four 50,000-barrel barges from Jeffboat and five 30,000-barrel barges from Conrad Shipyard – all with the ability to switch between heavy oil and light oil service.
Now the company's ever expanding history has moved West, where Vane's newest tugboats sporting its blue "V" logo are moving petroleum barges in the Pacific Northwest and California coastal waters.
"Our current fleet operations on the west coast primarily involve ship-bunkering operations in the Pacific Northwest and dock-to-dock transfers in an area that includes the Port of Benicia and the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach," said Captain Rick Iuliucci, Vane Brothers Vice President of Operations. "Shore-side offices are currently maintained in Seattle, San Pedro, and Oakland."
Vane, which had vessels and barges moving through the Panama Canal for the first time last fall, has a ship-bunkering partnership with Marathon Petroleum Corporation in Puget Sound, and dock-to-dock transfers on behalf of Valero Energy Corporation in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the Port of Benicia in the San Francisco Bay.
"We are gratified that companies which are among the nation's foremost petroleum refiners have tapped Vane Brothers to support their west coast activities," Vane Brothers President C. Duff Hughes said when the announcement was made in March. "Our much-anticipated arrival in a new market on the west coast unlocks exciting opportunities for Vane Brothers. Now that equipment, the crews, and key support staff are in place, we have a platform for continued growth in partnership with valued customers."
Vane's expansion into the west coast market this year has been a long-awaited milestone.
"The company has a proud maritime tradition dating back to 1898," said Iuliucci, who joined Vane Brothers in 2007 after 27 and became VP of Operations in 2018. "Today, in addition to our new Pacific operations, Vane Brothers is active in several ports up and down the East Coast, including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay. Though starting operations in a new geographic area on the other side of the continent presents unique challenges, our experience with prior expansions prepared us well for the move to the west."
To perform its day-to-day operations on the west coast, Vane uses some of the newest vessels in the industry: these are model-bow tugboats with 3,000 to 4,400 horsepower, and double-hulled tank barges with a 30,000 to 80,000-barrel capacity, Iuliucci said.
"We have a great working relationship with some of the nation's foremost petroleum refiners," he said. "And I can't say enough good things about our mariners. They are the best in the business, supported by a well-respected group of experienced and talented shore-side staffers that will only build on our reputation as the premier marine operations team in the US flag fleet. Together, the crews and land-based personnel ensure that our operations are performed safely and efficiently."
The team will need to draw from its vast experience to navigate west coast waters.
In Vane's latest company magazine, Pipeline, employees talked about facing those water conditions.
"The Puget Sound is one of the most pristine and scenically beautiful regions for the
American mariner to transit," said Port Captain Patrick Dougan. "However, it is also one of the most challenging, with dynamic weather shifts and extensive government regulations."
In the San Pedro Bay, it's not unusual to see an offshore swell of 20 feet or more to keep the Assateague/DS-802 at bay.
"Once you get a clear weather window and head out to sea, the wave action is very different than back home," said Assateague Chief Mate Todd Helmey of South Carolina.
"On average, the wave dynamics on the west coast (if you choose the right weather window) will allow you to sail in larger seas because of the longer interval times between waves. But don't get me wrong, it can be very nasty out there if you're not careful."
Building trust with the professional crews nurtured by Vane Brothers will be key to maintaining a safe and efficient operation.
The timing was right to enter the west coast market for Vane, which currently operates nearly 150 tugboats and barges.
"It is apparent that bunker markets will be changing as a result of the IMO 2020 Sulphur Cap and other evolving regulations, and these will lead to new customer demands," Iuliucci said. "Having our equipment and key support staff already in position on the west coast allows us to rapidly respond to new customer opportunities that will ultimately come in the ports where we now operate."
Vane will draw from its history of strategic growth to inform its future plans.
"We are very excited to be operating on the west coast, and appreciate the warm welcome we have received from the local communities," Iuliucci said. "As long as we maintain our core values of performing every job the right way, exceeding the requirements established by our regulatory partners, and doing everything in our power to make the customer successful, we will position ourselves well for writing the next chapter in Vane Brothers' impressive history."