Monday, July 1, 2019

Navy makes a choice

The old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee has long been ascribed to the Royal Canadian Navy's decision making process. The old adage of course is largely based on aesthetics. The camel is a perfectly designed beast for desert caravans, but not for the Queen's Plate.

History will eventually be the judge on whether the RCN's choice of design for the new Naval Large Tug [NLT] project is a correct one. I for one have some doubts.

The navy's requirements, re-stated simply were for a vessel that could carry out ship berthing in the naval dockyards, provide firefighting capability, perform coastal towing, and be of a proven commercial-type design. The last of those requirements seems a strange one to me, since no two tug operations are so similar that a design can be "proven" from one to another. Many tug operators are able to make  a standard tug design work for them, but it can usually be shown that there could be improvements in one or more aspects of operation. As tug designs evolve progress is rarely made by standing still.

The four tug order will provide two tugs for HMC Dockyard in Halifax and two for HMCDY Esquimalt, in British Columbia. The difference in coastal towing alone from those two bases is so significant (open ocean from Halifax and sheltered inland waters of the Salish Sea in BC) certainly indicates to me that a "proven design" simply means a design that has already been built and used in a variety of operating conditions.

Over the forty plus years since the last RCN dockyard tugs were built most of the tug industry had settled on two engines driving stern mounted azimuthing thrusters (ASDs), with a small share of the market given over to true tractors - drives mounted forward, with azimuthing or cycloidal Voith Schneider (like the current Glen tugs) propulsors.

However in more recent times there have been an almost infinite variety of nuanced hull forms where azimuthing tugs can push, pull or tow with equal power from the same position. Enough of these have been built to justifiably make the claim for "proven."

Not only that but low emission engines have evolved too. In addition to the IMO Tier III standard,  there have been numerous varieties of hydrids built using generators, electric motors and batteries to improve efficiency and  reduce pollution. Several of these have passed the experimental stage and are arguably "proven". Dual fuel diesel / LNG ships have now become the norm for new vessel construction of tankers and ferries in Canada. They are still largely protoyypical for tugs.

According to a press release, the RCN has chosen a RAmparts 2400 design from Robert Allen Ltd of Vancouver. The pre-eminent tug designers in not just Canada, but the world, the Robert Allen firm has probably designed every variety of tug mentioned in the above paragraphs and more (including the three thruster ROTOR tugs) and even worked in concert with their prime competitor, Damen, the most prolific tug builder, on some of them. Certainly their portfolio of proven designs would be wide ranging. Why a shallow draft, harbour tug design, not normally fitted with a towing winch, was chosen in view of the above requirements is a mystery.

Not included in the press release was a detailed description of the propulsion system supplier. That the engines will be IMO Tier III goes without saying, but there is no mention of how the fire pumps will be powered, how the stern drives will be energized, etc., nor what company will provide the system. Since engines are at least as important as all the rest of the tug, this is a critical piece of information, currently lacking. The standard RAMparts 2400 has a strictly conventional diesel  / shaft / thruster arrangement.

Industrie Océan has built many tugs of different sizes - some simple and some complex - and has worked closely with Robert Allen, and Damen too.

What I am getting around too is that both designer and builder are capable of producing just about any kind of tug you could throw at them.

It is therefore puzzling that the RCN has chosen the RAmparts 2400 series. This is a basic, some would say traditional, budget tug, (48 have been built world wide, with more on the boards). They have been used in many different situations, including for the US Navy, but with no obvious suitability to the RCN's special requirements.

My opinion is that the RCN has several fairly unique requirements that need to be taken into account:

1. Tight spaces and light displacements. The Halifax dockyard features very narrow cambers between finger piers, where relatively light displacement warships tie up. This means that tugs do not have much room to manoeuvre. Once tethered to a ship they should be able to work without shifting position. While ASD tugs can do this to a degree they are not ideal. Tractor types are better. (The current Glens can often be seen working stern forward - living proof that the tractor is the answer, but that a better hull design is needed.).
The light displacement ships do not require high bollard pull tugs, but they also need precise control over power. Certainly the infinitely variable cycloidal systems are superior in these cases. However they have other limiations. True tractors with controllable pitch props, and/or ASDs with electric drives with various power options (main engine, auxiliary engine, battery and combination) would be the most efficient and effective.
A lot of the jobs Dockyard tugs do is shifting scows, placing fenders, and don't inlvove large ships. Again the  low power engine option is ideal in these situations.
At only 24m long the RAmparts 2400 is obviously designed for tight spaces, because it is short. That would certainly indicate limitations on sea keeping for coastal towing.
The standard propulsion package answers none of the efficiency or environmental issues.

2. Occasional larger ships. The new tugs will eventually be tasked with berthing heavy displacement supply ships and icebreakers, so sometimes will need more power. Again the propulsion system with a variety of power sources is the logical choice for operational cost and emission control. Short trips between piers or where no towing or pushing powers is required is common for most tugs and certainly true for these tugs. Again a propulsion system that allows for low power drive is called for, with full power needed for only short periods of time. Only then are the main engines needed, when  they can be run at peak efficiency.

3. Fire fighting. While required to provide fire protection in the Dockyards, this is so seldom needed that it can probably be accommodated by means of a PTO from one of the main engines, or from the central power sharing hub, rather than a dedicated auxiliary engine. The space (and cost) saved could certainly be utilized for battery space or even LNG fuel storage.

4. Ocean towing. Is this still a requirement for these tugs, not a just a 'nice to have'? Most ASD tugs that do both harbour berthing and towing are fitted with two (very expensive) winches - one forward and one aft - each equipped with different ropes/wires to suit the purpose. However there are now designs (that are proven) where a single double drum unit can be used. The hull design needed for such an installation is not the RAStar 2400. In fact I would say that the coastal towing requirement has been dropped, since only towing bits or hook are provided. This is a missed opportunity.
[There is a valid argument I suppose that coastal towing is not needed - the Kingston class MCDVs are on the way out and they have been the most often towed away for refits. Halifax tugs have towed these ships as far as St.John's. NL.]

5. Submarine berthing. RCN tugs in Halifax at least, are just as likely to have to berth US Navy subs as they are RCN subs, so underwater fendering will be a necessary feature of the new tugs. I do not know how this will be addressed. Protecting sub hulls from ASD thrusters could present a challenge.

6. Ice class. No mention has been made as to ice class for these tugs that I have heard. Although it is probably not a high priority (most of the RCN does not want to be anywhere near ice). A case can be made for this requirement, but within the tugs' life times there maybe no ice left. The Swedish navy has just taken delivery of some ice class tugs for example, but they are on the Baltic where it is essential.

7. Why navy tugs at all (a.) and why only four (b.) ? Part  a. of the question has been thrashed out, but I thought the reason the navy opted to buy their own rather than hire in, was that they had unique requirements that could only be met with their own design. To my mind the standard RA2400 spec could be met by most of the commercial tug operators in eastern Canada on a moment's notice.
The other, and more cogent argument is that the navy and its pilots do things differently from civilians, and that only dockyard based tugs (and crews) should be used. I buy this, but not on the basis of operating costs or tug design.

As to why only four - certainly a mistake. Halifax has three Glen class tugs now and no dedicated fire tug. Having only two NLT's does not allow for refits or extended times away from port while towing.
With the Halifax based navy fleet increasing by four (larger) ships over the next few years, having only two NLTs seems short sighted. For example what if a there is a fire on a ship in the Dockyard? One NLT is fighting the fire and there is not enough remaining tug capability to move other ships out of the way. Or what if one tug is away for refit? Commercial tugs will be brought in,and if they can do the job in a pinch, why can't they do it all time?
It also reflects poorly on part  a.  because the navy will have to hire commercial tugs either for the coastal towing or for harbour work or in case of emergency.

I grant I may be jumping the gun on several of the above issues for want of more detailed information. However I think the navy, using the same team of designers and builders, could have done better. If these tugs are expected to give 30 or 40 years of service they should be at the very least state of the art now. They should also be capable of adopting newer technologies later in their service lives, and should be as "green" as possible.

My particular concerns are certainly environmental, but cost and operaiotnal eeffectivenss are important too. I hope to hear better information that I have now.

Most of the world's RAmparts 2400s have been built in Turkey. They are constructed as day boats, but sleeping accommodation for crew can be added if desired.

Some have been built with full crew quarters, but they do not have towing winches:

I am certainly not implying that the RAmparts 2400 design is inferior. What I am saying is that either the RCN's requirements have changed (no coastal towing) or that they trying to use a proven design for a general purpose harbour tug when what they should be building is something quite different. Maybe they will a get a very nice horse when what they really need is a camel.


Friday, June 14, 2019

Refits - all sizes

As spring moves into summer and warm weather arrives, it is not surprising that Halifax tug owners are joining home owners in getting out the scrapers and paint brushes.

Acquired in July 2018 from Tidewater, Horizon Enabler, the former Tidewater Enabler, continued to carry the colours of previous owners. The ship tied up at Pier 9B May 27 after returning from a large cable laying project in Greenland waters. After unloading the cable laying gear at IT International Telecom crews got busy on the starboard (sunny) side of the ship.

Starboard side new colours / Port Side old colours.

The ship's transom has been re-instated after the cable work, and will be readied for repainting.This afternoon the ship will move to The Cove in Dartmouth where it will berth to allow the workers to move to the port side.

Cable slides have been removed and the "tail gate" reinstalled.

Further along at Pier 9C the well known Gulf Spray is celebrating its sixtieth birthday with a serious shave and haircut. Built by Ferguson Industries Ltd in Pictou to its own account in 1959, the tug had
a major rebuild in about 2007. After severe damage in a storm in 2014, repairs were made, but they did not restore the tug to its previous yacht like appearance.

The tug's hull has acquired a large crop of marine growth over the winter.

Now up on the dock, the tug is being readied for another season of barge handling. The barges are used to remove waste and recyclables from cruise ships. The international garbage it is not allowed to enter the domestic "waste stream" and it thus landed ashore and transferred to a special incinerator at the international airport. 

Even at 60 years of age this tug still performs useful work, and certainly raises an admiring glance from tug aficionados when it is seen hard at work.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

New Tugs in Town

With construction of the southend container pier extension moving into the second phase, McNally International Inc has mobilized additional plant for the work.

Phase 1 dredging started in January and was completed by May 22. The crane barge Derrick No.4 conducted the dredging using the dump scows S.11 and S.12. The tug Mister Joe was on hand for the start of the work, and the smaller tugs Oshawa and J.F. Whelan carried through.

There is now the rock mattress to place, using the dump scows to transfer the material from pier 9C to pier 42.

The second phase is to build concrete caissons that will form the base of the new pier. McNally has brought in two more barges, the Idus Atwell, equipped with a crane and the semi-submersible barge Beaver Neptune as a construction platform for the caissons. There have also been numerous sectional scow components of the Argonyn class. McNally has ten of these 50 ft x 9 ft truckable units that can be linked together in various configurations to form a single floating platform.

The barge Idus Atwell had to be towed from Point Anne, ON (near Belleville) to Halifax, a ten day trip assigned to to  the veteran tug Sandra Mary. Built in 1962 as hull number 1205 by Russel Brothers in Owen Sound, ON, its original name was Flo Cooper when it was built for C.A.Pitts Construction. McNally acquired and renamed the 900 bhp tug in 2000. In 1993 its registration was transferred to Charlottetown, PE when it was working on the Confederation Bridge project.

Russel Brother's "Steelcraft" trade name appears on the original builder's plate still in place aboard Sandra Mary

It is similar in design to another McNally tug, Mister Joe built in 1964. The latter was re-assigned from Phase 1 work earlier this spring and is no longer in Halifax. In fact AIS signals say that it is in Lake Champlain. This I find hard to believe, so will await other reports.

After arriving in Halifax May 18, Sandra Mary sailed on May 25 for Point Tupper, presumably towing Oshawa and returned with the Beaver Neptune and the tug Whitby. Built in 1978 at the port of the same name by original owners McNamara Construction, it is rated at 475 bhp.

Sandra Mary and Whitby tied up at pier 9 between assignments.

All of these tugs have worked in Halifax on many projects over the years, and it is always interesting to see them again.

Idus Atwell set up just off the end of pier 42 for placement of the rock mattress.
 (McNally built the extension in 2013.)


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Océan Stevns back to Canadian flag

The Groupe Océan tug Océan Stevns may be headed back to Canada. The tug was registered in Quebec City May 21 after a period of bareboat charter to an Océan subsidiary, Ocean J Towing Ltd, in Jamaica. At time of writing the tug is still in Kingston, Jamaica and there is no ETA for Canada.

The tug was reflagged in early 2018 to St. Vincent and the the Grenadines and in July 2018 it stopped in Halifax for a few days, then sailed July15 for Kingston, Jamaica. Océan had a ten year contract for tug services in Kingston and both Océan Stevns and Océan Taiga were sent south for the contract. They were later joined by Océan Kingston Pride ex Bogaçay IX, acquired for the contract from its Turkish builder/owners. It is a RAmparts 2400 SX design with 6,298 bhp and 80 tonne bollard pull.

Business was not as brisk in Kingston as expected, and apparently three tugs were not needed. Earlier this year Oceran J faced criticism from port users when it raised its rates, less than a year into the contract.

Océan in Canada may also be a bit stretched as the summer comes on and two tugs are needed for the Baffinland work. When the Océan Stevns left Halifax I also speculated that it was underpowered for today's large ships and predicted that it would be back in Canada in less than five years. See:

Océan Stevns was built in 2003 as Stevns Ocean by Industries Océan in Ile-aux-Coudres for Stevns Multi Ships of Denmark. It is powered by two MaK main engines totaling 5,000 bhp, driving two Aquamaster stern drives.

In 2013 it came back to Canada on charter with option to buy, along with sister tug Stevns Arctic. Those options were exercised and the tugs were renamed Océan Stevns and Océan Arctique. Initially used at Sept-Iles, QC, the tugs have also worked in Quebec City.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Horizon Star - back to work

The big offshore services vessel Horizon Star sailed this afternoon for St.John's. Aside from some harbour trials last month, the ship had been idle at The Cove in Dartmouth since returning from the Yantian Express salvage job in January. (Ironically that ship is due in Halifax tomorrow).

 Horizon Star glides through the Narrows for a brief stop at pier 9 before heading to sea.

With Horizon Star returning to sea, all three of Horizon Maritime's big boats are now at work. Horizon Enabler has been off Greenland installing subsea cables since February.

Their third large support vessel has just entered service in Norway. Horizon Arctic was acquired recently from Bourbon Offshore Norway. The former Bourbon Arctic, built in 2106 by Vard (hull in Romania, fit out in Norway) is a 8143 gt, 307 tonne bollard pull ice class OSV with accommodation for up to 60 persons to support offshore work such as ROV operation.

The ship has apparently resumed a North Sea contract with Lundin Petroleum carried over from Bourbon. Entry into service of the Bourbon Arctic also marks the opening of a new Norway office for Halifax and St.John's based Horizon.

Relatively young companies, like Horizon, with low debt levels are expected to thrive in the current market. Older, larger companies are often crippled with debt and over burdened with excess vessels that are now overvalued. Several have gone to Chapter 11, downsized or forced to merge with others in order to survive. Horizon has also chosen to operate in harsh environments and establish themselves in a specialized niche. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Salvage Monarch - unexpected visit

High winds off the our coast for several days resulted in a surprise visit to Halifax for the tug Salvage Monarch and its tow, the converted tall ship Caledonia. Neither vessel is a stranger to Halifax - for more on Caledonia see Shipfax . The tow is headed from Toronto for Boston, and the Gulf of Maine is notorious for stormy conditions. While tug and tow passed Halifax Sunday May 12 it was decided to duck in for shelter. Tall ships, with their great windage and awkward bowsprits are notorious to tow, and so it was prudent to avoid rough weather.
Unfortunately they are tied up at pier 27, an impossible place to photograph anymore.

While the tall ship Caledonia is a bit of a classic, built in 1947, the tug itself can lay claim to classic status too. Dating from 1959, it has been rejuvenated a couple of times, most recently by Toronto Dry Dock Ltd, its present owner. It is now fully compliant to operate in US waters.

Original owners,  Pyke Salvage and Navigation of Kingston, ON (then part of Fednav) foresaw the need for a capable salvage tug with the opening of the St.Lawrence Seaway in 1959. The company's co-operation with McAllister Towing of Montreal eventually led to McAllister taking over ownership of Pyke's assets.

At the time various owners were having tugs built in the UK and P.K.Harris of Appledore, North Devon went on to produce several notable tugs for Canada with the patented Hydroconic hull form. This hard chine design was much more economical to build than fully moulded hulls and has proven to be quite functional - given good rudder design.

I have featured the tug here before, see:

McAllister used the tug for salvage work and some long tows, including one from Sorel to Halifax in 1971 with the ferry Napoleon L. In those days Salvage Monarch acquired the sobriquet "The Grim Reaper" for the number of old Great Lakes ships it towed to ship breaking yards. This was useful work as the number casualties in the Seaway system diminished over time with improved navaids.

By the time McAllister sold its Montreal towing and salvage operation, Salvage Monarch had become more of a conventional harbour tug than a salvage vessel, but it still carried a towing winch when most tugs had towing hooks only.

When Groupe Ocean acquired the Montreal tug operations, they made a number of their tugs available for charter work, including bareboat charter. Salvage Monarch made one of its infrequent returns to salt water in 2000-2001 as a standby and chase boat for cable work.

It was then sold to a fledgling towing company in Goderich, ON, which was followed by several years in layup.

Toronto Dry Dock apparently saw the potential in the tug and have over the past few years given it a lot of TLC and brought it back to a high standard.

This is the tug's first long distance tow under those new owners, and it is an ideal job for it. Great power is not required to tow Caledonia, and a skilled crew can certainly deal with the normal issues. Although I cannot confirm it, it is likely that there is a riding crew on the Caledonia too, another reason to be safely tied up in port during windy weather.

Toronto Drydock Ltd have built up their business from modest beginnings, now with a fleet of three tugs - all classics in their own right - owing their longevity to many years in fresh water, but also to "in house" maintenance and upgrades. They are involved in ship repair, marine construction and of course commercial diving and salvage.

For more on Toronto Drydock Ltd, see their web site:

Weather conditions improved considerably by Thursday May 16 and the tug and tow were able leave port. Hugging the coast they will make a shortest possible dash across the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, aiming for the Maine coast.

Regrettably I still don't have a photo of the tug in its black hull / red superstructure paint scheme and its tiny elevated bird's nest conning station.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Atlantic Larch and tow

Atlantic Towing is gearing up for another season of northern supply work with the repositioning of tugs from their winter duties and preparing the barges for their work.

For the past several years ATL has been ferrying cargo in Chesterfield Inlet to Baker Lake on the west coast of Hudson Bay, using two tugs and two barges. Last year the tugs were Atlantic Elm and Atlantic Beech. For several years one of the barges has been Atlantic Sea Lion.

Atlantic Larch, ATL's "outside" tug, has a towing winch and additional satellite communication.

It seems certain that the Atlantic Sea Lion will be one of the barges again this year. After laying over in Halifax for the winter, it was picked up today by Atlantic Larch and headed off to Saint John. NB to be readied for work.

The barge has a long history since it was built by Saint John Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co Ltd in 1966. Originally a tanker barge for carrying heavy fuel or asphalt, it was named Irving Whale.  From September 7, 1970 until late July 1996 it sat on the bottom of the Gulf of St.Lawrence in a perfect state of preservation after sinking in a storm.  When leaking from its cargo became a serious threat to fisheries, it was raised at great expense and handed back to J.D.Irving Ltd.

 After twenty-six years on the bottom and five years laid up, the barge was pretty raw looking when it left Halifax for a refit in Shelburne in tow of Atlantic Elm.

After five years laid up in Halifax it was renamed ATL 2701 and rebuilt as a deck cargo barge in 2001.  It was used to carry wood chips for a time and even made a lengthy trip to the Great Lakes in 2007 with a cargo of specialized gas piping racks.

 As seen today underway in tow, Atlantic Sea Lion reveals little of its past.

In 2009 it was renamed Atlantic Sea Lion and has seen regular service in the north. The barge and its tug initially go up the St.Lawrence to Becancouer QC and load cargo for the north. After the long tow to Hudson Bay they operate a shuttle service from deep draft ships, transferring cargo into Baker Lake. The first ships usually arrive in late July and the operation goes on until October.