Ryan Leet was built at the behest of the French government as Abeille Provence in response to catastrophic tanker losses off the coast of France. The French realized that "tugs of opportunity" would not necessarily be available in times of emergency, and that most salvage tugs of the day would not be powerful enough to assist a large tanker. Abeille Provence (and sister tug Abeille Normandie) justified their existence, but at tax payers expense.
Since then the world has evolved, and tankers got larger. The French government has continued to provide rescue tug service, and in fact is into the third generation of such vessels. Although the British have pretty much bailed out of the rescue tug business, other nations have recognized the absolute necessity to provide such tugs, and Germany and the Netherlands among others are able to cover the Channel and much of the North Sea coasts.
The irony of course lies in the fact that Abeille Provence and sister were built way back in 1978 and were replaced in 1987 because they had become too small. Secunda Marine Services of Dartmouth, NS, acquired both tugs in 1990, and although they sold Magdelan Sea (the former Abeille Normandie) in 2004, they rebuilt Abeille Provence, renamed it Ryan Leet and have kept it occupied ever since. It has been largely used in recent years with standby work for offshore gas facilities, but it has also been a diving tender and supplier, as well as a towing and salvage tug.
Ryan Leet in its glory in 1994. It was fitted with an FRC, a workboat (the Copan Runner) and carried a diving support container under davits on its port side.
By chance when John I ran into trouble, Ryan Leet was between contracts and lying in Mulgrave, NS. It was able to respond to the emergency on short notice as a "tug of opportunity". No other tug of comparable power, aside from tug/suppliers, was within 500 miles. Those tug suppliers were all on charter and were not immediately available, if at all.
I have long advocated for rescue tug(s) in eastern Canada, even though they would not be called on very often. The British model was one I recommended, where privately owned tugs were contracted for emergency standby, but could also perform commercial work under strict control.
Of course eastern Canada rescue tugs would need to be ice class. The second tug needed in the John I grounding, Atlantic Fir , required icebreaker escort to reach the grounded ship en route from Halifax.
The arrival in Halifax of the Polar Class 4 icebreaking bulk carrier Nunavik, which will operate year round between Hudson Strait and Europe (see today's Shipfax), also reminds us that there is increased activity in the north, where tugs are virtually non-existent unless they happen to be in the area on commercial work. Surely there is justification for rescue tugs, if only seasonally, in the north.
Our Canadian Coast Guard is neither suited nor equipped to tow except in a dire emergency. The diversion of three badly needed icebreakers from the Gulf to assist John I for pollution control, standby and rescue work is surely an indication that those resources are stretched thin as it is. Properly fitted rescue tugs with pollution gear, would ease that situation.
Ironic, yes and lucky, that Ryan Leet was available this time, but the tug must surely be reaching a milestone at 36 years of age. If it goes what is left?