Friday, September 20, 2013

Towing Industry Sees Changes

The Ocean & Coastal Towing sector has been seeing a number of changes over the past few years, most specifically the adoption of Articulated Tug/Barge (ATB) units for most coastal petroleum movement and the rising importance of offshore oil work for tug & barge owners. Seattle-based Foss Marine Holdings has sold its Columbia River and Boston tug operations while merging its remaining business units under the name “Foss Maritime Company” and preparing for a stronger commitment to offshore work in the Arctic. At the same time, Crowley Maritime has opened up a new project management office in Singapore to support its expanding operations in Southeast Asia while also teaming with Alaska’s Bowhead Transport Company to form Bowhead-Crowley for supply operations in the Arctic. Crowley has also completed its decade-long articulated tug/barge (ATB) building program, giving it a fleet of 17 modern ATBs with capacities ranging from 155,000 to 330,000 barrels.

Other tug and barge operators have also been adding new equipment, with Portland-based Gunderson turning out deck barges for both Northland Services of Seattle and Oregon’s Sause Bros. Gunderson is still awaiting a potential contract from coal exporter Ambre Energy for a possible 20 coal barges for Columbia River employment. This same work has the interest of Portland’s Vigor Industrial, which is completing a crane-equipped deck barge for Seattle’s Harley Marine. Harley has already taken delivery of a new 125-foot by 35-foot ASD tug from Portland’s Diversified yard (see Pacific Maritime Magazine, July 2013), with both vessels to be employed in Alaska.

ATBs Take Over
The ATB revolution, which got off to a slow start back in the 1970s, came into its own during the 1990s with the incorporation of sophisticated coupling equipment. To date, Crowley’s construction program represents the largest single investment in the ATB concept and has seen a major share of the Pacific Coast product trade shifted to pushed barges. This same shift has taken place along the Gulf and East coasts where such operators as New York’s Bouchard Transportation have also invested heavily in the concept.

ATBs are also being used to handle other freight. The Great Lakes have seen a number of the units employed in the dry bulk sector, often making use of old ship hulls minus engines to create the pushed barge. Unfortunately, one of these sets, the tug Victory coupled to the converted barge James L. Kuber, formerly the steamship Reserve, suffered a separation on Lake Superior earlier this year but without pollution or injury. The barge, which had more than 21,000 tons of iron ore on board, was eventually rounded up by the US Coast Guard’s 140-foot tug Thunder Bay and Purvis Marine’s 132-foot tug Anglian Lady, with assistance provided by the nearby ore carrier Saginaw. Separations of ATB units have been rare and only minor repairs were needed to return Victory and James L. Kuber, both operated by Grand River Navigation, to service.

To Africa and Back
Illustrating the flexibility ATBs can offer in the dry cargo trades has been a three-and-a-half-month voyage made by Foss International’s ATB set Thunder/Lightning to West Africa and back earlier this year. Formerly owed by the Jore Group, the 1978/82-built Thunder/Lightning, along with sister ATB Strong/Mariner, feature barges equipped with a bow door that allows cargo to be handled roll-on/roll-off style. This makes the vessels a good fit for serving ports where cargo handling gear is minimal. In the case of Thunder/Lightning, which has been handling US aid cargos, the ATB’s first stop was Freetown, Sierra Leone where 40 containers were discharged. Because of bad roads and broken-down equipment it took more than a day to get the boxes moved just ten miles to a storage warehouse, their final destination.

Things were a little better at the next stop, Lomé, Togo, where 47 containers were off-loaded in relatively good time. However, their final destination, Bamako, Mali, was more than 900 miles inland and Foss had to take care of logistics. Because of recent hostilities in Mali, Foss elected to hire an established local contractor, Central African Transport, to move the boxes inland using guarded truck convoys.
The ATB’s last stop was Douala, Cameroon where 112 containers were discharged at a relatively well-equipped terminal. Prior to the West African trip Thunder/Lightning had received a major overhaul in Singapore after which the ATB was contracted to transport US military equipment from the Philippines back to the United States.

Crowley’s Asian Barges
With its own ATB fleet now fully built out, Crowley Maritime has been looking at other opportunities in the tug and barge sector. South East Asia has been showing potential and the company is opening a new project management office in Singapore to oversee two heavy-lift deck barges it is having built in China, an order that contains options for an additional two. The first two 400-foot by 120-foot barges, to be named HDB 01 and HDB 02, will have 25-foot side shells and a deck strength of 4,200 pounds per square foot. This will give them enough capacity to accommodate the large drilling and production units now being used for deepwater offshore work in the region. Additionally, the Chinese-built barges will have larger capacity ballast systems to deal with the high tidal ranges found in Southeast Asia. They will also have enough internal strength to withstand sitting on the bottom while being loaded if port requirements and water depths dictate.

Designed by Crowley subsidiary Jensen Maritime, the twin barges will be ABS-classed and have a deadweight capacity of around 20,000 metric tons. According to Craig Tornga, Crowley’s vice president of Solutions, both will be positioned to Batam, Indonesia after being delivered early next year. “This move not only allows us to broaden our geographical reach, but will also allow for more efficient turnkey solutions within the areas in which our customers are focused,” said Tornga. “It is also important for us to be able to support the operation and market growth with dedicated equipment, which is why we are investing in the construction of two new barges for the region.”

New Alaska Joint Venture
Crowley is also continuing to invest heavily in a region it already knows very well: Alaska. Earlier this year it teamed up with Bowhead Transport Company to form a new joint venture, UIC Bowhead-Crowley, to provide marine services in Alaska’s Arctic region. Bowhead Transport is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC), the Alaska Native Village Corporation based in Barrow, Alaska. Both companies have longstanding histories of providing services in the Arctic, with Bowhead operating a common carriage service for 30 years to the coastal communities of the region while Crowley has been providing marine transportation, energy support and petroleum distribution services in the 49th state for more than 60 years.

According to Crowley’s vice president, Anchorage, Bruce Harland, the UIC Bowhead-Crowley venture will focus mainly on the oil and gas industries in Alaska and supporting their growing needs in the Arctic by offering marine, logistics and transportation services. “This new partnership is really tailored to meet the needs of customers in the oil and gas; mining and minerals; and engineering, procurement and construction management industries,” said Harland. “Crowley has provided turnkey marine solutions in the Arctic for many years utilizing the company’s diverse capabilities, assets and world-class project management skill..." We look to provide greater efficiency, lower costs, expanded capabilities and higher value to our customers through the joint venture.” Jim Dwight, general manager of Bowhead, noted that because of the companies’ “strong ties” to the communities in which they work, they will be able to facilitate local hire and provide local expertise.

Foss Moves North
Seattle’s Foss Maritime has also been long active in Alaska and has been moving more assets into the region. This past spring the company’s tug Halle Foss was again moved north to act as tender for the petroleum barge Washington operated by sister company Delta Western. Working out of Bristol Bay, the tug and barge combination delivers fuel to more than 50 communities in Western Alaska.

The more remote villages are served by transshipping the fuel to three shallow-draft tug/barge teams that can navigate the shallow rivers to reach their destinations. One of these tugs, the Capt. Frank Moody, draws only 3½ feet of water and was completed by the Foss yard at Rainier, Oregon in 2011. Earlier this year the same yard completed a sister tug, the 73-foot-long Emmett Foss, which will be operated by the company on Alaska projects where shallow water is encountered. Besides its shallow draft the 1,437 horsepower tug has a bollard pull of 25,000 pounds, making it ideally suited to handle barges carrying modules or other kinds of heavy freight that must make a beach landing.

Red Dog Mine
Farther north, in the Chukchi Sea, Foss is continuing its seasonal lightering operations in support of Alaska’s Red Dog Mine where between 1.2 million and 1.4 million tons of ore will be transshipped to deep draft bulk carriers this year. The seasonal operation uses the loading barges Kivalina and Noatak, along with the tugs Iver Foss, Stacey Foss, Sidney Foss and Sandra Foss. New to the operation this year have been lighter weight wheeled loaders used to handle ore on the barges. The machines weigh about 60 percent less than the units they’ve replaced and consume about 60 percent less fuel. Both barges also received new scale systems used to weigh the ore they carry, as well as new electronics for monitoring draft, at the Foss yard at Seattle this past winter.

Arctic Class Tugs
An even larger commitment to the north is getting underway at Foss’ Columbia River yard where work has commenced on the construction of the first of three Arctic class tugs designed by Foss along with its naval architecture partner Glosten Associates. To be built in modular sections, the 132-foot vessels will have ice-strengthened hulls and will be powered by Caterpillar C280-8 main engines that meet the latest environmental standards. In addition, there will be no ballast tanks carried, thus eliminating the chance that invasive species might be transported, and holding tanks for both black and gray water will be provided to permit operations in “no discharge zones.” Energy efficient LED lighting will also be used where possible and all hydraulic oil systems will be compatible with biodegradable oil.

Designed to achieve in excess of 100 metric tons of bollard pull, the first of the new tugs is to be delivered in December of next year while the latter two will follow in 2015 and 2016. Gary Faber, Foss’ President and Chief Operating Officer, said the tugs have been designed specifically to withstand harsh-environment Arctic operations and will allow Foss to “compete for global opportunities” in the rapidly evolving oil and gas industry. This includes the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska where Foss already has five vessels committed to Shell’s arctic offshore exploration program.

Better Barges
Two other operators are having new barges built for eastern Pacific operation, one for Alaska employment and the other for the run between the West Coast and Hawaii. Seattle-based Harley Marine chose Crowley’s Jensen Maritime to design a 250-foot by 70-foot deck barge that will carry a 230-ton lift capacity Manitowoc 4100 crawler crane for cargo handling. To be christened Iliuliuk Bay upon completion later this year by Portland’s U.S. Fab, the barge will be used between Dutch Harbor and Akutan, Alaska to carry containers and general cargo.

The vessel’s deck design features both D-rings to secure containers stacked up to three high as well as eight lashing bars running fore and aft for over-sized freight, such as heavy construction machinery. Already completed and due to enter service shortly is the 362-foot by 105-foot barge Columbia, built by Gunderson at Portland for Sause Bros. of Coos Bay and to be employed between Sause’s Teevin Terminal on the Columbia River at Rainier, Oregon and Kalaeloa Harbor (Barbers Point) on the island of Oahu.

Designed by Hockema & Whalen Associates of Seattle, the new barge has a maximum deck load of 3,650 pounds per square foot and a deadweight of 14,000 short tons. “The launch of Columbia is an exciting time for Sause Bros. because we will soon be able to offer even better, economically viable service to our customers in both Hawaii and Oregon,” said Sause General Manager of Columbia River Service, Jeff Browning, who noted that Sause also plans to update its fleet of tugs by utilizing the latest engine technology in conjunction with ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel. Several Sause tugs are currently being repowered by the firm’s associated Southern Oregon Marine yard at Coos Bay with the goal of achieving an overall carbon reduction of 80 percent on the Hawaii common carrier run by the end of next year.