Friday, May 28, 2010


It is not often that marine casualties involve two ships with connections to Halifax. However this did happen on May 18 in the Suez Canal. The container ship Rhein Bridge was transiting the Canal en route Halifax for Singapore. Reports indicate that the ship lost power or lost steering and collided with the US flag integrated tug/barge Philadelphia, which was en route Saudi Arabia for Libya.
The ITB visited Halifax in 2001 for a refit and the following photos show what an operation that was. As an Integrated Tug Barge, built to circumvent rules for ships, and fall under rules for tugs, the tug portion of the unit had to be able to separate, and sail on its own. Photos 1 to 3 were taken on September 18, 2001:

1. The barge is shown here after drydocking and is preparing to join up with the tug. The barge will have to be ballasted well down in order to connect to the tug, which remains at the same draft at all times.

2. The tug, in fact a catamaran, was an ungainly craft on its own. Here it is after leaving the drydock, in its normal ballasted trim. The tug Point Valiant is conveniently lodged in the catamaran's stern notch and pushing it down the harbour, in a cold move.

3. The triangular object on the left is a giant tongue protruding from the barge's stern. When the tanker body is ballasted down, the tug will ride over this tongue and it will be locked in place to make a rigid connection with the tug. Another tug will be required to assist in this evolution. The bright patches on the tongue and catamaran hull are wear plates.

4. Sister Mobile's barge is shown here while being moved by tugs in Halifax December 6, 2001. The tongue is to the right, the bow to the left.

5. Here the two parts of Philadelphia are firmly locked together, docked in Tampa, FL April 20, 1992. The barge must be constantly ballasted/ loaded to the same draft to keep the tug in position. You will note the absence of any towing gear on the stern of the tug.

Rule makers did not take kindly to the ITB and made regulations that required tugs to be able detach, sail on their own, and to be able to tow the barge if needed. The ATB (articulated tug and barge) where the tug is really a tug on its own, and can tow the barge, met this new requirement. ATBs are connected with a simpler form of pin connection, which allows the tug to pitch in relation to the barge, and the tug can adjust its position irrespective of the tanker's draft.

Philadelphia and its sisters are not particularly efficient to operate- they require a large crew, no different from a conventional tanker, and are becoming obsolete. Two have been sold to Nigeria for further trading, two have been scrapped and the remaining two are carrying food aid grain to the middle east. They are single hulled (with double bottom) and are restricted from carrying oil to some port, and will be outlawed completely in a few years. Coupled with the downturn in demand for petroleum products their lives are limited as tankers. They may continue to work as bulk carriers, but their owners, US Shipping Partners, are also struggling financially, so we may not see these vessels for much longer.

I have received no word on the severity of damage following the recent collision. Philadelphia was last reported anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, awaiting surveys.

Philadelphia was built in 1983 and the tug measured 1443 gt on its own and was powered by tow Enterprise 16 cyl engines (one in each hull pod) totalling 18,200 bhp. The integrated unit measured 22, 331 gt. They were built for the Amerada-Hess Corp, and later operated by Sheridan Transportation.

Sisters are:

Jacksonville (1982) now Nigerian (refit in Halifax 2000)

Groton (1982) now Nigerian

New York (1983) scrapped

Baltimore (1983) scrapped

Mobile (1984) in service (refit in Halifax 2001)

June 21: Update: According to press reports, Philadelphia was severely damaged in the collision. One engine room was flooded when the hull was punctured by Rhein Bridge. As a result the ITB was declared a total loss and sold to Indian shipbreakers.

1 comment:

  1. A pic form the Suez-canal, after the collision.