Thursday, January 1, 2015

Svitzer buying - UPDATE

The multi-national Svtizer towing operation, although based in Denmark, like its parent company A.P. Moller-Maersk, is arguably the world's largest tug operator, with 430 tugs at last count. It is the largest operator in Australia, and is constantly upgrading and modernizing its fleet there. In May of this year it announced that it had acquired three lightly used tugs in China, and two of them have now been delivered from Singapore to Newcastle, NSW.

The third tug is still in Singapore, and is reportedly undergoing upgrades to allow it to work in ice. Reliable sources tell me that it will be coming to Canada.

If that proves to be the case, then it is almost certainly headed to Baie-Comeau, QC to replace the Pointe Comeau.. See update below  Although Pointe Comeau is owned by Cargill Grain, it has been operated by Svitzer Canada (and its predecessor Eastern Canada Towing) since it was built in 1977.  A product of the Marystown Shipyard, in Newfoundland, the Pointe Comeau is a 3600 bhp vessel, producing 48 tonnes bollard pull through two Voith-Schneider propulsors. The only V-S tug in the Svitzer Canada fleet, it was built especially to serve the narrow confines of the Baie-Comeau grain, aluminum and paper docks.

Pointe Comeau carried on the three tiered wheelhouse design, that started in 1956.

The commercial piers in the port of Baie-Comeau are wedged in to a narrow inlet in a rocky coast, leaving little room to work between ships and docks.  In its first years of operation Pointe Comeau  wore the Smit+Cory funnel mark - a combination of Smit's stylized shackle and Cory's diamond shaped coal nugget.

As a Voith-Schneider tug, Pointe Comeau works only over the stern, thus visibility aft is crucial. As with most V-S tugs, its hull is remarkably fee of tires for use as fenders.

The new tug was built in 2007 for the Government of the Peoples Republic of China for use by the Shanghai Port Affairs Administration. It is also a Voith-Schneider tug of  about 5400 bhp and 56 tonnes bollard pull. Its original name was Hai Gang 107 but was renamed Svitzer Wombi by Svitzer Australia. It will likely get a more Canadian sounding name - I hope not Svitzer Comeau.

 For a photo of the tug in its original appearance see:

Pointe Comeau is an unusual tug in some ways, but its design followed an interesting progression and evolution. When the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, the ports of Sept-Iles and Baie-Comeau, QC got a new lease on life. Great Lake ships could deliver grain to Baie-Comeau, then move to Sept-Iles to load iron ore for the Lakes. The grain would then be loaded into even larger ocean going ships for destinations around the world.
In the case of Baie-Comeau it also exported paper and aluminum, aboard relatively small ocean going ships. Sept-Iles was strictly an iron ore port, as was its sister port in Sept-Iles Bay, Pointe Noire. There was general cargo coming in too, but that was usually on coastal boats. (Aluminerie Alouette came later in 1989, on the eastern shore of the bay.)  
In 1959 there was no thought of these ports being terribly busy in the winter, with the possible exception of Baie-Comeau, which did ship some paper to the US east coast if conditions permitted. Sept-Iles directed its activity to moving iron ore to the Great Lakes, so was virtually shut down in winter.

However both ports needed tugs, if only seasonally at first, and Foundation Maritime got the contracts, in Sept-Iles with the Iron Ore Company of Canada and in Baie-Comeau with Cargill Grain.

The thinking at the time was that the tug master needed to see the deck of the ship he was berthing, and thus needed an elevated wheelhouse. This may have come from the days of open monkey island bridges on tugs, where the tug master could see and hear all, (as well as getting lungs full of coal smoke, and suffering through any kind of weather.) That was all well and good in milder climes, but the conditions can be brutal in Baie-Comeau and Sept-Iles, late in the season. And so came the three tiered deckhouse. Not unique to Foundation tugs - US railway tugs had high wheelhouses, to see over the barges loaded with rail cars- but certainly in Canada the new breed of tugs, developed for Sept-Iles and Baie Comeau, were almost unique.
Foundation Victor was the first of the three tier deckhouse tugs. It is still sailing as R.J.Ballott  

Foundation Valour, also built for Sept-Iles is still working, but now in Thunder Bay, ON.

First was Foundation Victor, built in 1956, followed by Foundation Valour in 1958. Remarkably both tugs are still running. Big single screw tugs, they could work in ice, but were really intended to operate from April to December in Sept-Iles. When the Gulf and River were closed due to ice, they would move to Halifax, which in those days was considered a winter port - taking up much of the St.Lawrence traffic, the rest going to Saint John. NB.
Point Vibert, the former Foundation Vibert was transferred to Halifax when Pointe Comeau was delivered. It survived until Svitzer took over Ectug when it was sold to McKeil  and now serves as Florence M. Svitzer Bedford in the background does not have the high wheelhouse of its fleet mates.

Foundation assigned some of its smaller tugs to Baie-Comeau, but Cargill wanted a more powerful tug, that could work late in the season and could maneuver between the finger piers in the port. Canadian yards were busy, and the tug was ordered from P.K.Harris of Appledore, North Devon, England. Built to a slightly more modern appearance, but with twin screws, and the patented hydroconic hull form, Foundation Vibert arrived in 1961.With better ice reinforcing, it could work most of the year, and move to Sept-Iles if needed when Victor and Valour were in Halifax. The tug was owned by Cargill Grain, but operated by Foundation Maritime.

 The skipper can keep a good eye on his line as it passes through a fairlead right at his eye level.

When MIL Tug took over Foundation in 1971 it was apparent that  more powerful tugs were needed in Sept Iles due to much larger ships coming in for iron ore. Also the Canadian government was keeping the Gulf and River open for year round navigation, and much better ice performance was needed. So it was that two 4500 bhp twin screw icebreaking tugs were ordered from Collingwood for that port. By the time they were delivered Eastern Canada Towing Ltd had been formed by Smit+Cory and Pointe aux Basques and Pointe Marguerite were delivered with the Smit+Cory funnel mark. [When Pointe Marguerite was crushed between tow ship and stank with the loss of tow lives, a replacement, to essentially the same design was delivered as Pointe Sept-Iles]. The three tier deckhouse was repeated in these tugs, bringing the skipper's height of eye up to deck level of loaded ships.

Baie-Comeau was also experiencing year round activity, and larger ships all the time, particularly for grain export. Again Eastern Canada Towing ordered a tug with a three-tiered deck house, but with a difference. This one was to have Voith-Schneider units, to allow the ship to pull or push, ahead, astern or sideways without shifting position. The system had been proven in nearby Port-Cartier, another, but newer  grain/ore port, between Baie-Comeau and Sept-Iles. Its two V-S tugs, Brochu and Vachon entered service in 1973-74 and were able to work in equally tight conditions to Baie-Comeau. Not only that, they were able to work in ice, since their V-S blades were low in the hull and were not in contact with fast ice.

Pointe Comeau, and as it turns out all subsequent tugs built for Eastern Canada Towing, were to have three tiered deck houses. [The current Point Valiant was bought off the stocks, and was originally ordered for Groupe OcĂ©an, so was not built for Ectug].  This distinct feature has now been repeated in the selection of the Chinese built tug.

Pointe Comeau looked its best in late Ectug markings, with the blue Cory Diamond on a red band, and the tan hull stripe, matching the deckhouse.

No delivery date has been mentioned for the tug, but as heavy lift ships are commonly carrying full sized tugs these days, it will likely arrive when a convenient delivery can be arranged to coincide with other heavy lift work in the area.

Update: I am now reliably informed that the new tug coming to Canada will in fact be working at Port Cartier, where the two V-S tugs mentioned above are not enough to handle all the work. Apparently Svitzer has contracted to provide the new tug, again as managers for Cargill Grain.

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