Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Famous names may vanish

There are now scores of famous tug owning company names that have disappeared as the gradual consolidation of the tug industry continues. Even such well known companies such as Smit have not been immune to takeover - in its case by Boskalis - losing its colour scheme and funnel mark, but still retaining some Smit names.

While tug companies used to be small scale or even family owned, the pressures of competition in the now capital intensive industry have forced many small operators to capitulate to the big owners and sell out or just fold up. Strategic alliances even among big players are now common as they try to serve a larger shipping industry that is intensely competitive  (Smit and Kotug for instance). The big shipping owners are doing long term deals with international tug operators, squeezing out smaller firms. The shipping companies themselves are struggling against diminished cargoes, and an oversupply of larger ships that require powerful tugs at bargain rates.

The freer movement of tugs around the world has allowed tug operators to work well beyond their traditional borders as they also become international businesses. Protective regulations in ports have been contested and new operators have moved onto once protected turf, outside their original nation.

Europe has certainly been the most competitive, and the most consolidating as the British, French and Dutch mergers and acquisitions have taken place over a couple of decades.

Germany has been feeling the pressures as Dutch (Kotug, paired with Smit) and Svitzer have moved into once exclusive territories of Hamburg and Bremen/Bremerhaven.

Lutgeans + Reimers began operating tugs in Hamburg in 1872. This tug, dating from 1923, worked in Hamburg until 1982. It was converted to diesel in 1957.
(The ship in the background appears to be the Resolute :

Hamburg is an interesting example, where the local tug companies, some of them very small, long had a co-operative arrangement where the tugs are dispatched in proportion to their share of the co-op and used a uniform tarif to protect larger crew sizes. Unfortunately this arrangement did not inspire the tug owners to keep up with the times, and when new larger ships came along, the Dutch Kotug moved in in 1993 and "poached" a lot of the business and contracted directly with shipping lines, with new powerful tugs, smaller crews and fiercely competitive rates.
See my June 2014 post on the Hamburg combine:

Prompt is one of four similar Damen ASD 2411 tugs serving Hamburg's Lutgens + Reimers. The 5500 bhp 71mt BP tug was built in 2013. Two more were delivered in 2015 and one in 2016.

Despite recent efforts to upgrade their fleets and reduce crews, the competition continues. News is now out that Linhoff, the parent company of Lutgens + Reimers of Hamburg and Unterweser Reederei AG [URAG] which serves Bermen / Bremerhaven  and area is in financial peril and appears ready to sell out to the Spanish super Boluda Corporacion Maritima. Boluda swallowed the well known French company Les Abeilles in 2007 and is apparently hungry for more central European presence.

If the deal goes through it will see Boluda going head to head with Kotug/Smit and Svitzer..

Svitzer recently contracted for the work of parent company Maersk and Smit/Kotug got MSC in Bremerhaven pushing Linhoff to the wall.

A present day member of the URAG fleet, Turm was built in 2001 and is a 5,090 bhp, 60mt BP Voith-Schneider seagoing and harbour tug. Aside from one seagoing tug the URAG fleet is all V-S.

The combined fleet of URAG and L+R numbers 20 tugs, so it is a small operator by world standards. While now largely confined to the Elbe / Weser area, it once stretched a bit farther afield.

Read a brief history on URAG's web site:

In the late 1950s and in to the 1960s the company was active in international towing and their tugs did come to Canada from time to time, often towing old ships to scrap in Britain, Spain and Italy. The two tugs Rotesand (1961. 2400 bhp) and Robenplatte (1963. 1800 bhp), between 1964 and 1970 made seven and three transatlantic trips respectively, towing twelve and three ships total.

Rotesand usually towed two ships at a time. One such tow departed Lévis, QC May 22, 1968. The tow consisted of the laker Blanche Hindman and the old US passenger ferry Florida that had been used at Expo 67 in Montreal as Le Palais Flotant.
Thanks to the late Dan McCormick I have three photos in my collection taken by his friend the late Phil Damon, from the Quebec / Lévis ferry the day before the departure.

Rotesand  with tow line rigged. The famous URAG flag is on the funnel.
Note the canvas dodgers on the bridge wings. This would be the only place where the watchman could see the tow with any shelter. The open flying bridge would not likely be used in mid-Atlantic!

The 1931 built Florida must have been an unwieldy tow due to windage. The laker Blanche Hindman is out of the picture on the left.

A manila tow line is faked out on deck, and there are lines from a towing hook and from a winch. This indicates that each of the ships had its own tow line from the tug - one long line and one shorter. 

Rotesand delivered the tows to the breakers at Santander, Spain June 16, 1968, after a 24 day tow.

When URAG disposed of Rotesand it went to another German owner, Ludwig Harms, as Salus, then to Petersen + Alpers as their Hanseat in 1974. It was sold to J.Johansen + Sohn of Lubeck in 1983 and as Eduard was lost in 1984.

Linhoff, the owner of L+R and URAG, is a family owned marine conglomerate, based in Buxtehude and consists of eight businesses, including boatmen services, helicopters, offshore wind services and engineering, acquired in 2001 from Preussag. Preussag was the majority owner of Hapag-Lloyd at the time, but renamed itself TUI in 2002, sold off Hapag and bought into the tourism business, including airlines.

Linhoff maintained the historic identity of its two tug companies, but as the deal closes at the end of 2016,
it seems likely that these famous company names will disappear like so many others.


Monday, December 26, 2016

NTCL - 11th hour deal

A last minute deal, filed only two days before NTCL (Northern Transportation Co Ltd) would be declared bankrupt, has apparently given some reassurance that northern Canadian communities may be supplied by water transportation again in 2017.

The company was forced into creditor protection after years of losses.  After the court appointed monitor sold off non-core assets (four tugs and a dozen barges) it began to search for potential buyers to run the company as a going concern. The "Sale and Investment Solicitation Process (SISP) resulted in only one potential buyer, but that deal did not go through when the bidder backed out.

An unsolicited offer then appeared from 2006647 Alberta Ltd (a mystery buyer! never identified) which the court appointed monitor was ready to recommend to the court at a December 15, 2016 hearing. The offer was conditional on financing, for 12 tugs, 73 barges and some miscellaneous equipment and real estate, but was apparently bona fide and would at least return something to the creditors (including the seriously underfunded employee pension plan). The company's remaining assets would then have be auctioned off, likely for scrap value.

Then on December 13 another unsolicited offer arrived, from none other than the Government of the Northwest Territories as represented by the Minister of Public Works and Services.  Much to the consternation of the monitor, the new bidder was aware of the amount of the other bid, which was in fact no secret, since it had been released to some contestants for creditor status.

Nevertheless the government bid was higher, was unconditional and also offered to acquire some additional assets to those bid on by 2006647. Therefore the monitor recommended it to the court (with reservations) and it appears to have been accepted without conditions, except the usual formalities.

So now it appears that the NWT government is in the tug and barge business, having acquired 12 tugs, 73 barges and a long list of miscellaneous items including a dry storage area for the miserable amount of $4.5 mn. (NTCL had debts of $130 mn on April 27, 2016, and a book value of nearly $45 mn.).

How many of those tugs and barges the NWT will be able to put in service for 2017 and how it will be able to manage the 2017 supply operation will be watched very closely by many.

Perhaps the government will hire back those laid off employees and begin to make up the $22mn pension shortfall left by the previous owners. It likely won't be doing it out of profits, however. The operation needs an investment infusion for new equipment - especially double hulled fuel barges, and some tugs.

The recent federal government five year "moratorium" on northern oil drilling will be another blow to potential profits, but it seems to me that this form of northern transportation is so essential to western arctic life that it has to be operated as a public service.


The roots of the Northern Transportation Co Ltd go well back in time. However the essential nature of the work has not changed. Somehow navigate barge loads of supplies through extremely shallow waterways during a short operational season.

In 1937 the noted naval architects Milne, Gilmore and German designed a pair of tugs for just such work. They were built by Marine Industries Ltd (known then as Manseau Shipyards Ltd) in Sorel, QC, disassembled, transported by rail, water and overland and reassembled in the north, by workers from Sorel. They were of all welded construction (still a novelty in 1937).
The following scans may not be entirely legible, so the captions summarize the details:

Radium King 115 grt, 2 x 240 bhp Gleniffer, twin screws in tunnels
95'-6" loa x 20'-6" x 6'-3" depth, 4'-3" maximum draft, accommodation for 11 crew and 6 passengers
for service on Slave River, Great Slave Lake and Mackenzie River.
This pioneering craft was retired in 1967, but has been preserved at Forth Smith, NWT.

Radium Queen 108 grt, 2 x 160 bhp Gleniffer, twin screws in tunnels
86'-3" loa x 20' x 5'-0" depth, 1'-9" maximum draft, accommodation for 11 crew and 6 passengers
for service on the Athabasca and Slave Rivers between Fort McMurray and Fort Fitzgerald.

The first of the two to be shipped to Waterways, AB - then end of rail - Radium Queen was assembled then towed the partly assembled Radium King to Fort Smith. Radium King was then hauled 16 miles overland in pieces by tractors, and finally assembled in Fort Fitzgerald.

Both tugs were later repowered:  Radium King with two 10 cyl Vivians in 1945 for 550 bhp and Radium Queen with two 4 cylinder GMs in 1948 for 500 bhp.

Their flying bridges were also enclosed with wheelhouses of essntially the same size as the lower one.

As to the NTCL assets previously sold by the monitor, there has only been one change of name so far.
The barge NT 1511 has been renamed Qamani'Tuaq by Transport Desgagnés Inc. They had been chartering the barge in the eastern arctic since 2013.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

My favourite tug, the Point Halifax, was delivered in late 1986 - the same year that Shipfax began as a newsletter.
It was sold to McKeil Marine in 2012 and renamed Leonard M.
It was the first ASD tug in Halifax, rated at 4200 bhp and 62 tons bollard pull.

Seen here from the wheelhouse of the Point Vibert while docking the tanker Ambra Dolphin at the Ultramar dock, Eastern Passage, Halifax, February 6, 1992.

Thanks to the followers - regular and occasional - for your support, comments and corrections during 2016.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Maersk Bonavista gone to breakers

An offshore tug, best remembered as Maersk Bonavista has now been sold to breakers in Chittagong, Bangladesh. It was built however as Bonavista Bay for Husky Bow Valley, and served under that name from 1983 to 1988.

As delivered the unique vessels also had a unique colour scheme of very deep blue and red hull. The red funnel continued the hull red colour and the white band carried the familiar Husky silhouette.

A product of the now defunct Vito Steel Boat + Barge Construction Ltd in Delta, BC, it was one of six sisters, four built in Korea, and the fifth, Placentia Bay by Bel-Aire Shipyard in North Vancouver. 
The unique looking craft, were powered by four MaK engines, each 2720 bhp, producing a respectable 125 tonne bollard pull, through two controllable pitch props in nozzles. They also had three thrusters at 800 bhp each, two forward an one aft. The had accommodation for 14 crew and 8 passengers.

Bonavista Bay and Placentia Bay arrived in Halifax together June 23, 1983, fresh from the builders, via the Panama Canal.

In 1988 Maersk made its foray into Canada by acquiring the entire fleet of six, and quickly renaming them by removing "Bay" and adding "Maersk". It was some time before they were fully repainted.

When Maersk took over and renamed the tugs, they changed the funnel marking immediately, but left the hull until the next refit.

Maersk became fully established in Newfoundland, but the tugs did work from Halifax at various times.

Under Maersak ownership, they wore the equally distinctive and traditional Maersk blue hull and tan superstructure found on Maersk cargo ships and tankers.

In 2006 Maersk Bonavista was reflagged to the Bahamas and in December 2007 it was sold to Rolf Berg Drive of Norway and renamed Drive Bonavista. It is under that name that its sale was announced this week.
AIS positioning for the tug shows it anchored in the Bay of Bengal since December 16. It had completed a time charter to the Gujarat State Petroleum Corp in June 2016.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tugs at work, tug at rest

Harbour tugs get to work in all kinds of weather from hot to cold, wet to dry, calm to windy, but the worst must be the frigid winters when spray freezes to steel.

This morning, although the wind had died down, the air temperature was still minus 13C and there were still traces of sea smoke as Atlantic Oak and Atlantic Bear were called out to assist the tanker Silia T to anchor in Bedford Basin.[see also Shipfax]
Harbour regulations require that ships of this size use two tugs to transit the Narrows, one forward and one as tethered stern escort.

Atlantic Oak, usually the stern tug, got the forward position this time around. She wears a thin coating of frozen spray.

The more powerful Atlantic Bear got the aft position and did some real work to swing the ship's stern dipping her rail as she heeled into her bow line.

It took only a few minutes to adjust the ship's course and the tug was able resume an even keel. Despite its immense size, a big ship's rudder is ineffective at slow speed and when the ship is light. The tug provides far more force and can respond rapidly.

The tugs stayed with the ship as it entered the Bedford Basin and would assist it to stop and to turn into the wind at the anchorage.

Meanwhile another tug was at rest at Dominion Diving. Dominion Bearcat has been undergoing a leisurely refirt for almost two years at its owners base in Dartmouth Cove. The tug was built in 1987 as GSI No.1 by Georgetown Shipyard in Prince Edward Island for their own account. In 1992 it was sold to the Mersey Paper Co, Liverpool, NS to assist ship docking at the mill's pier in Brooklyn. It was renamed Mersey Pride.
When the paper mill was closed in 2014 (it is now the site of a shipbreaking facility) Dominion Diving bought the tug and renamed it. They have since made numerous modifications for their own needs and painted the hull in the company colours (it had always been unpainted aluminum), making a very handsome job of it.

A member of the local duck population touches down adjacent to the newly refitted boat. Fleet mates Dominion Pursuit and Big Steel wait for work in the background.

Dominion Diving carries out an extensive underwater business, but also provides pilot transport, line boat, workboat and supply barge assist in Halifax, and frequently rtravel to other parets of the region. Dominion Bearcat should serve them well in a variety of jobs.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Pacific Hickory - update (corrected)

It turns out that the Pacific Hickory's recent Canadian visit was also its last. As reported here the tug arrived in Montreal in November October 22 to tow out the laker Atlantic Erie.

As built for Atlantic Towing Ltd, Irving Miami, later became Atlantic Hickory. After leaving ATL ownership it traveled world-wide as Pacific Hickory.
The ship was renamed Atlantic  Spirit of Shpongle for the tow which left Montreal November 6 4. They encountered some foul weather in the Gulf and chose to take shelter between PEI and Cape Breton, sailing well south to the Cape George area. They finally did make it out through the Cabot Strait and arrived at Aliaga, Turkey December 11.
The Pacific Hickory was laid up in Rotterdam for several months before the this trip, whether due to lack of work or mechanical issues, no one seems certain.
Nevertheless soon after reaching Aliaga, the tug itself was also beached for demolition on December 15.

My first photo of the Irving Miami in 1974. The tug was one year old and was here to assist in the trials of the oil rig Sedco 704 but arrived a few weeks early for drydocking at Dartmouth Marine Slips. It tied up at the Irving Oil wharf at the foot of Sackville Street (now the pilot boat dock) before the drydocking.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pair of Tugs Passing Halifax

A pair of veteran US tugs are passing Halifax this evening (December 7) en route to the Great Lakes.  The sister tugs were built by Gulfport Shipbuilding Corp in Port Arthur, Texas for Gulf Coast Transit Co of Tampa, FL.  

Libby Black was built in 1966 and Ellena Hicks in 1967. They were paired with bulk barges Barbara Vaught and Thelma Collins to carry coal to parent company TECO Energy's generating station in Tampa Bay. They were equipped with an elevated pilot house and were powered with two GM EMDs totaling 4300 bhp driving twin open screws.

 Ellena Hicks works her way out of Tampa harbour in Gulf Coast Transit colours.
Gulf Coast Transit was eventually renamed Teco Transit, and when the company converted its Tampa station to natural gas the tugs were no longer needed. They were sold in 2003 to McAllister Towing and Transportation of New York. Libby Black became  Katie G. McAllister and Ellena Hicks became  Colleen McAllister. The barges were scrapped.

The bulk carrier barge Thelma Collins has since been scrapped.

Now the pair have been purchased by Port City Marine Services of Muskegon, MI and sailed from New York December 4, with  Katie G. McAllister towing  Colleen McAllister. With cooperative weather the two should make it through the St.Lawrence Seaway before it closes for the winter.

Marcon Interrnational brokered the sale and according to their website the new owners plan to install Bludwoth connectors to the tugs, which were built for shallow notch and face wire work, but usually towed the barges at sea.

Port City bought the Michaela McAllister a sister to the present two, built in 1967 as Betty Culbreath, and renamed it Prentiss Brown in 2009. Port City Marine is associated with Sand Products Corp of Muskegon, MI which operates tugs and barges in the aggregates and cement trade on the Great Lakes.

Michaela McAllister upbound on the St.Lawrence River towing the barge Atlantic Trader.

As a footnote to the Gulf Coast tugs and barges, which were named for the wives of directors of Teco. I wonder if there was any jealousy over whether you had a tug named after you or a barge. Just a thought.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tug Change

Two of the regular Halifax tugs sailed today to be replaced by two from Saint John.
Atlantic Willow is southbound - maybe for refit in Shelburne, while Atlantic Fir is northbound in the direction of Newfoundland.

Replacements are the Atlantic Hemlock and Atlantic Bear.

Atlantic Hemlock dates from 1996 and is a 4,000 bhp ASD tug. It has the distinction of being the only tug in the current inshore fleet to have made a transatlantic voyage. When Irving Shipbuilding was promoting its successful line of tugs from the East Isle Shipyard, Atlantic Hemlock visited several European ports including Rotterdam in 2000. It was also present at the International Tug & Salvage conference event at St.Malo, France. It worked briefly off Broadstairs, UK on a cable repair project, but after an idle spell in Southampton returned to Canada. It is now based in Saint John, but frequently does "outside" work beyond the port. It was here last month towing the barge Atlantic Sealion.

Atlantic Bear was built in 2008 as a variant on the East Isle design. With its two sisters, Atlantic Beaver and Spitfire III, it was designed to berth ships at the LNG terminal near Saint John. With 5,432 bhp and a bollard pull of 70 tonnes they are the most powerful tugs in the ATL inshore fleet. Due to a drop in LNG demand, the tug has been freed up to work outside. It recently assisted in the placement of the tidal turbine in the Minas Basin.
It is equipped with extra bow fendering and has water cannons mounted on the bridge deck. They are tarped in, as is the large ship berthing winch on the foredeck.
The three tugs of this tpye are owned by Atlantic Reyser Ltd, a joint venture between ATLand the LNG terminal partners, and managed by ATL.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Breaux Tide finished

It appears that the supplier Breaux Tide is leaving Nova Scotia waters for another assignment. The boat was one of two Tidewater vessels engaged to support Shell's exploration program with the drill ship Stena IceMAX.
After DP trials in Bedford Basin, Breaux Tide returns to pier 9c.

Both received coasting licenses to allow the Vanuatu registered ships to take the Canadian flag on a non-duty paid basis and to work in Canadian waters. Management of the two was by Atlantic Towing Ltd (ATL), as bareboat charters. The Jones Tide did not complete its first year when it was stood down after Stena IceMAX had the drill stem drop to the seabed in March 2016.

Jones Tide outbound. Ten days later it was idled at the old Coast Guard base (in the background).

After sitting idle at the old Coast Guard base for the month of April 2016, it reverted to the Vanuatu flag and sailed on May 5, 2016. It is now working in Trinidad and Tobago.

Breaux Tide renewed its coasting license in August 2016 for another year, but last month it appears to have gone off charter, and has been idle at the old Coast Guard base in Dartmouth. It will be sailing today for an as yet undisclosed location.

As of June, Tidewater, the largest offshore vessel operators in the world, had 87 of its 181 boats stacked and that figure may be larger now. However they may have found work for a new vessel like Breaux Tide.

Delivered by Jiangsu Zhenjiang in March 2015, the 3,927 grt supplier arrived in Halifax in late August 2015 via Capetown and Port Gentil, Gabon and was registered in Halifax August 31.

 Stena IceMAX is entering a new phase as it is reported that the ship must now drill a horizontal offset after encountering a major fissure in its current well, Cheshire. Shell has also announced that it will not be drilling any more in the current program, which was for two wells with an option for more if results were positive. The first well, Monterrey Jack did not deliver satisfactory results, not to mention the huge dollar loss due to the drill riser problem.

Support for the drill program is now being provided by Skandi Flora  (bareboat chartered by Mathers) and Maersk Nexus which joined the program in August and did not need a coasting license, since it is a Canadian flag vessel, Scotian Sea (Secunda.) and Atlantic Tern (ATL) also appear to be doing standby duty. Thus Shell has spread their largess amongst all the players in the supplier business. However they were not without criticism, since almost all the crew members are from Newfoundland, and the work is offshore Nova Scotia. The reverse situation would not be tolerated long in Newfoundland!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

NTCL update

Based on recent court filings it seems likely that Northern Transportation Co Ltd (NTCL) will make an assignment into bankruptcy shortly after December 15.
While the company has been in creditor protection the court appointed monitor has been able to sell assets piecemeal , but no buyer has come forth to take over the company as a going concern.
As a result the remaining assets will be sold or scrapped. A court hearing will determine if the underfunded pension plan is entitled to any of the proceeds. If not the secured creditors will get about 6 cents on the dollar.
The once mighty company in its heyday ran a huge tug and barge operation on the Mackenzie River system, supplying communities all over the western north with goods that could not be transported any other way. They rammed through as much freight and fuel as they could in the short five month shipping season to keep the Nunavut region supplied for the whole year. Recent years were not kind to the company and it has been struggling for a long time.
The future of northern supply via the Mackenzie system is now in serious doubt, unless another company can step into the vacuum created by the disappearance of NTCL.

As of September there were some 174 vessels registered to NTCL according to the monitor. Of these 158 were in NTCL possession, 6 were "unknown", 2 were sold prior the creditor protection, 81 subject to pending offers and 77 considered to be scrapped, abandoned or out of class.
The monitor sold 8 others as non-core assets, to rid the books of a number of tugs and barges that weren't part of the basic Mackenzie fleet. See Tugfax October 25, 2016:
Most of the remaining operational fleet, particularly the aging tugs, cannot operate anywhere else, so someone could possibly acquire some of them as the nucleus for a new operation. Without that happening there must be considerable anxiety in the western north about next year's supply.
NTCL also had an extensive ship repair base in Hay River that is also presumably up for sale.

Rumours persist about a couple of tug companies taking a serious look at the assets, but nothing has been said officially.

More about the tug Keewatin mentioned briefly in the October post. 

The tug was built in response to a federal government request to service five communities on the west coast of Hudson Bay and Coral Harbour (on Southampton Island).  After delivery by Yarrows shipyard in Esquimalt in 1974, the tug sailed from Victoria with four barges(stacked in pairs) via the Panama Canal to Valleyfield, QC where it wintered. In the summer of 1975 it loaded cargo and sailed for Churchill. 
In 2002 the tug returned south arriving in Halifax in November from Rankin Inlet and went on to Shelburne for refit. 

At the time it was working in joint venture with Atlantic Towing Ltd.
It worked on the Great Lakes in 2003 and 2004 with barges carrying stone. However it returned to the Atlantic Coast in 2004 and was in Halifax in June towing an Atlantic Towing Ltd barge.  

On its last visit to Halifax in October 2015, it had the barge NT 1509 in tow and loaded project cargo for Newfoundland.
Keewatin is powered by three 16 cylinder Caterpillar engines totaling 3,375 bhp driving triple screws on a 6'-6" draft.
As mentioned in the previous post it has been sold to a Newfoundland company R.J.G. Construction Ltd.