Monday, January 10, 2011

Editorial - How Many Tugs Does Halifax Need

Events over the past several days lead to the obvious question - how many harbour tugs does Halifax need?

Last week when TSS Chemul was trying to get out of town, all four of Atlantic Towing's tugs were tied up for several lengthy periods for two days. Then on Saturday all four tugs were again involved, this time moving the drilling rig Rowan Gorilla III. On Sunday and well into Monday two tugs were dedicated to standing by the Triumph with Rowan Gorialla III on board.

This meant that normal harbour activity was in some cases delayed due to tug availability - including crew rest and crew changes.

If there had been some exceptional requirement for tugs - such as holding ships at berths, or a another ship dragging anchor in gales, there might have been a crisis.

Since Svitzer Canada formed the joint venture with Atlantic Towing and sent its tugs to the Strait of Canso last summer there have been no more than four working tugs in commercial service in Halifax. Svitzer had three tugs (sometimes four) in Halifax, and Atlantic two or more, during the worst shipping slump in decades, and they weren't making money. But now that the economy is in recovery mode and shipping is busier, times have changed.

So are four tugs enough to handle all the work in Halifax, allowing for some emergencies?

The Royal Canadian Navy operates three harbour tugs, but they are so underpowered that they would be of little if any use in assisting commercial shipping. The nearest source for supplemental tugs is Point Tupper/ Port Hawksbury or Saint John.

It is obvious that sometimes four tugs would not be enough. Holding ships outside the harbour, or delaying their departure until tugs are available is not a long term answer. It places Halifax at a disadvantage over most other sizeable ports where back-up tugs are almost always available. Additional tugs for Halifax are not available on short notice.

Atlantic Towing has four tugs, constantly crewed and ready for work, and presumably off duty crews too, that could be called in for overtime in an emergency to relieve working crews if they become fatigued or need rest time. They can't work 24 hours a day, but I imagine there have been some long days recently.

My opinion, for what it is worth, is that Halifax needs at least one more tug right now, and probably a sixth tug in a year`s time if more post Panamax ships show up.

Tugs don't grow on trees, they have to be built, so it is certainly time for Svtizer to be ordering a tug (their fleet is getting to be very old) and it is time for Atlantic Towing to order a tug since they are apparently stretched to capacity.

If I might make one more suggestion, it is that any new tugs need to be at least 6,000 hp (that is 1,000 horsepower more than any current tug in Halifax) and should be of a more advanced design than the current tugs. The Robert Allen Z-Tech type would be a good choice, in view of the escort requirements in Halifax for tankers and large ships going to Bedford Basin. Presently these tugs are licensed for construction in China only, through an arrangement with the Port of Singapore, where the above photo was taken in May 2008. However some US builders have been licensed to built variants.

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