Sunday, October 28, 2012

World's Most Powerful Tugs (again)

1. Even alongside at pier 33, Wolraad Woltemade exuded power.

Holder of the World’s Most Powerful title for a short tine were the South African pair, John Ross and Wolraad Woltemade. Built in response to the closure of the Suez Canal, when then supertankers were rounding the Cape of Good Hope, they were to be capable of towing the largest ships then in service. Completed in 1976, S.A.John Ross was built by Robb Caledon in Leith, Scotland and S.A.Wolraad Woltemade by James Brown and Hamer in Durban. They were given the radio call sings ZTUG and ZTOW respectively and took up station in Cape Town, but were also available for world wide towing when the Suez re-opened.

Powered by a pair of Mirrleess-Blackstone 16 cylinder engines they delivered 19,200 bhp to a single screw in a fixed nozzle for 150 tonnes bollard pull. They had all the usual salvage gear and a 30 tonne derrick for line handling.

Initially operated by SAFMarine, the state shipping company, ownership evolved into Pentow Marine and the “S.A.” prefixes were dropped in 1977. The Dutch operator Smit became a partner in Smit Pentow, which eventually became Smit Amandla Marine Pty Ltd. In 2003 John Ross became Smit Amandla.

The 30 tonne derricks were later removed, changing their appearance dramatically. In 2010 Woolrad Woltemade was sent to the scrappers in India, but Smit Amandla is still working in South Africa and has been involved in numerous salvages and tows.

Wolraad Woltemade arrived in Halifax September 25, 1985 to tow the jack-up drill rig Rowan Gorilla III to the Gulf of Mexico, it sailed September 29. It was back again November 25 and sailed November 26 with the jack-up Rowan Juneau, also for the Gulf of Mexico. Off Hatteras the big tug threw a con-rod, blowing out one side of one engine and it had to give up the tow to a Smit tug to complete the job. (Probably Smit New York, but never confirmed.)
2. The tug's massive derrick was intended to raise its towing gear and lift it aboard large ships.

3. No stern roller, but a smooth bulwark, showing lots of chain wear.

One wonderful story I heard about these tugs was recounted by the former delivery skipper of a dredge. They had set out from Brazil for southern Africa but had a main engine break down  in the mid-south Atlantic, and were unable to make repairs themselves. Conditions were getting fairly desperate aboard the small ship, and its owners called for tug assistance. 
Almost with out warning they spotted the derrick many miles off and suddenly one of this pair of tugs came sweeping down on them doing at least twenty knots, did a complete circle around the dredge and came to a halt exactly in position to pay out a tow line.
My friend stated that the tug was built to military specs and their advertised 20 knot maximum speed was probably understated by five knots or more. When I quized a South African tug man on this, he pooh-poohed the idea, but was not convincing.
That the tugs were built for speed could not be disputed however, because they were intended to respond to sudden emergencies over a wide area off South Africa.


  1. SA John Ross was built in Durban and not in Scotland

  2. Anonymous is right, you have the build locations the wrong way around.

  3. nice to see the wolraad again - she has gone to the breakers yard - 2010 i think

  4. Fundamental mistake the mighty Wolraad Woltemade was built in Leith, Scotland and was completed way ahead of the Ross which was built in S.A.