Saturday, October 29, 2016

Westport Ferry - new home, new colour

A workboat that has received mention in these posts before has a new home. Westport Ferry, long a fixture in Dominion Diving's fleet was sold this summer to a private owner in Purcell's Cove, and now calls that inlet its home. To signify its new ownership, its hull is now painted red.

Built in 1965 by St. Marys Bay Industries Ltd in Meteghan, NS, it was the last wooden hull and the longest standing member of Dominion Diving's fleet, having been acquired by Dominion's original owners in 1978.
I featured the boat here in 2014:

Little has changed in the interim, except that when I saw it in early September, it was obviously on a pleasure run - something it never did for Dominion Diving! So my assumption is that it was sold in August.

In the intervening month it has acquired its red hull paint and is now moored in Purcell's Cove, at the mouht of the Northwest Arm.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Maersk big blue pull

Maersk Supply Service Canada Ltd , the Canadian branch of the huge Danish shipping firm has a major contract coming up in the spring and summer of 2017. Kvaerner Kiewit, the contractor for the Gravity Base Structure (GBS) for the Hebron oil field, has awarded the tow out contract to Maersk Canada.
The gravity base, with various topsides to be attached, is being assembled in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay, NL. When it is ready to be positioned it will be towed 340 km out to sea to the Jeanne d'Arc Basin and settled on the sea bed.
This major operation, including pre-positioning and post-positioning will require nine tugs with a combined bollard pull of 1720 tonnes. The work must be done in a narrow weather window of 20 to 30 days, between April 1 and September 30.
To ensure smooth and seamless operation, several more than nine tugs must be available in case of breakdowns or other reasons. There will also be escort and similar duties during the tow.
Although Maersk has a Canadian fleet of nine, most of those vessels are under-powered for this job and contracted for other work, so would not be available in any event. Therefore Maersk has called on its international fleet and applied for 13 coasting licenses to allow foreign tugs to work in Canadian waters temporarily. Maersk will have two of its Canadian tugs ready for the project and some number of the 13 also to ensure nine operational tugs at any given moment during the contract.

The array of tugs will consist of  6 tow out vessels with a combined bollard pull of 1,020 tonnes - two of which must be 170 tonnes and the others 150 tonnes. It also requires 3 trailing tugs of 170 tonne bollard pull each. If any tug has a BP in excess of 245 tonnes it must be equipped with a load limiter.

Maersk has considerable experience in this type of work, including the Hibernia Gravity Base tow out in 1997 when it provided  10 large anchor handling tugs. They also list a dozen or more tow outs requiring 3 to 8 tugs, but this one is surely the largest they have tackled in terms of shear horsepower / bollard pull. One of Maersk's selling points was that all their tugs are under common management.

The Canadian flag anchor handling tugs designated for the project are Maersk Cutter and Maersk Clipper. Interestingly one of the proposed foreign vessels, Maersk Beater is still listed as Canadian registered. It has apparently been chartered back to the parent and is "non-duty paid".

Maersk Cutter is one of the Canadian tugs that may be used on the tow out project.

The foreign tugs listed in the applications are:
Maersk Advancer, Maersk Assister, Maersk Battler, Maersk Beater, Maersk Laser, Maersk Lifter, Maersk Tackler, Maersk Tracer, Maersk Starfish #1, Maersk Starfish #2, Maersk Starfish #3 and Maersk Starfish #4.
The last four named are in fact not the actual names of  vessels, but members of the "Starfish" class - a new class of six tugs currently under construction for Maersk. The first was launched in June 2016. See
It is expected that at least four of these will be available by next spring, but at the time of the coasting license application, Maersk had not yet announced all their names.

Maersk won the job against ten other bidders. Those bidders were: Atlantic Towing Ltd,  Oceanex Bourbon LP, DOF Subsea Canada Corp, Fairmount Marine BV, Farstad Shipping SA, POSH Terasea Offshore PE, Solstad Shipping AS, UOS United Offshore Support, Viking Supply Ships AS, and Secunda Canada LP (owned by Siem Offshore).

The work certainly comes at an opportune time for Maersk, as it would to almost any of the offshore tug supply companies. All are hurting in various degrees due to low oil prices and deep cuts in exploration. Maersk Canada's Danish parent has introduced major cuts and re-organized its offshore fleet. Several of the bidders are experiencing major hardships and a number of far-east and some Norwegian companies have failed outright. The North Sea and Brazil are among the areas hardest hit, but the problem is world-wide.
Tidewater is teetering on the edge of Chapter 11 in the US, and others can't be far behind. Even those with long term contracts have experienced early terminations and hundreds of tugs, suppliers and support vessels are laid up around the world.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Northern Shakeup - NTCL

Northern Transportation Co Ltd, the huge Mackenzie River based tug and barge operator was placed in creditor protection in April. After years of losing money, the parent company could no longer support  NTCL and finally surrendered to the inevitable.
NTCL was allowed to complete many of its 2016 summer supply commitments, but when those were done the operation has been mothballed until it can be sold off in whole or in part.
The company's court appointed monitor identified some "non-core" assets that could be sold off piece meal without reducing the value of NTCLs base assets which include a slew of tugs and barges and support facilities. NTCL has been the principal, if not sole, provider of transportation services to scores of northern communities, and its loss would be a major blow to much of the Nunavut region.
The company has been a financial cripple for many years, and many of the vessels in its once mammoth fleet have been laid up and virtually abandoned. The monitor identified 158 vessels (tugs and barges) of which 77 are abandoned, out of class or scrap. Even this number may not identify all vessels, since there may be more in remote places that  have not been listed yet.
In an attempt to diversify its operations the company set up in Newfoundland and at various times had up to four tugs, a tanker and several barges working there. Sometimes they worked independently, but were also under charter to Atlantic Towing Ltd and others for extended periods. Some of those have now been sold as "non-core".

These include the two tug / suppliers Alex Gordon and Jim Kilabuk, the tug Keewatin and a dozen barges, some of which are in the eastern and western arctic.

Keewatin was last in Halifax in October 2015, but after that visit went back to Mount Carmel, NL where I believe it has been laid up ever since.

The 3375 bhp triple screw shallow draft tug was built in 1974. It was upgraded in 2011 to bring it back into compliance.

Jim Kilabuk was here in April 2015 while repositioning to Tuktoyaktuk in the western Arctic via the Panama Canal. It was reported to be operational in the summer of 2015, but was not used in 2016.

Built as Canmar Supplier IV in 1975, the 7200 bhp tug was renamed briefly Pernell J. in 1995 for its delivery trip via Panama to Halifax where is was refitted and renamed. It has worked back and forth from the east coast to the Beaufort Sea.

Alex Gordon has a similar history. Built in 1975 as Canmar Supplier III it was renamed Lamar J in 1995 for its delivery to Halifax and refit and renaming.


The tug was laid up in St.John's for a time, but was towed to Mount Carmel, NL in August 2015 by Keewatin. It has also been repainted red since I last saw it.

All three of these vessels have now been sold to RJG Construction of St.John's. That company is a civil, marine construction and dredging firm, and it is unclear what use it will be making of the tugs.

Also laid up in Mount Carmel is the tug Michael Amos. Built in 1984 as Arctic Nanabush for use in the Beaufort Sea it was sold in 1993 and operated as Britoil 7 until 2001, Seaways 4 until 2007 and Sea Biscuit I  until 2009. NTCL bought the 6400 bhp tug from layup in Dubai, and sailed it to Canada under Panama flag as Michael Amos. After hard years of foreign offshore work the cost to bring it up to a Canadian standard proved to be prohibitive and it is questionable if it will ever see use.

Among the many barges identified as "non-core" most have been sold to eastern Canada owners.
NT 1802, NT 1803, and NT 1804 have been sold to Les Barges de Matane Inc. An offshoot of Construction CEG Inc, the barges will be used to transport CEG's prefabricated buildings from Matane to the far north.
NT 803, NT 804, NT 1526 and NT 1801 are now owned by RJG Construction of St.John's.
NT 1511 was already on charter to Desgagnés Transarctick and has now been purchased.
NT 811NT 1509, NT 1524 and NT 1527 have been acquired by TMO Océan Inc. Only the first named is currently in Newfoundland - the rest are still in Nunavut.

It can be inferred from the posted documents, that a single owner may be planning to take over the re-usable assets and  resume service in 2017, but it is far from certain how that can be accomplished.

For those interested in NTCL's Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act process refer to:


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Change Day at Atlantic Towing

For a short time today there were five tugs alongside Atlantic Towing Ltd's dock at Woodside. One tug was only in port briefly - Atlantic Hemlock.

Atlantic Hemlock has begun to shorten up the tow, which is trailing its buoyed insurance line.

 With the Hemlock on the hip, the barge makes its way stern first toward pier 6.

The veteran tug, built in 1996 is the oldest of the modern ASD tugs in the fleet. It arrived this afternoon towing the barge Atlantic Sealion. The once notorious Irving Whale, the barge is back from a summer's work in Chesterfield Inlet, running the supply shuttle to Baker Lake. Since the tugs that were working in the north returned to Belledune, I am assuming that is where Atlantic Hemlock picked up the tow. After a short spell at Woodside it set out for Saint John.

Hemlock features the tapered sides to the deck house. A feature of the original Robert Allen design, it was eliminated in later tugs in the series.

Also sailing this afternoon was Atlantic Larch.It had been in Halifax to fill in for Atlantic Willow while it was on the slip in Shelburne. Willow is now back with a nice new paint job and will be ready to work. When Larch left Halifax earlier this year, when it was replaced by the more powerful Atlantic Fir, it was fitted with a large Sat dome from the Fir, but this has now been removed, altough the tripoid mast is till in place. 

Larch and Hemlock are fitted with towing winches, but no fire fighting gear, and are considered "outside tugs" meaning that they are available for coastal work.

Atlantic Hemlock away from the dock (far right)
Atlantic Larch (far left) readying to go.
Atlantic Willow (inside the pier), Atlantic Fir (centre left) and Atlantic Oak (centre right) are the regular Halifax tugs.

There is a sixth tug at Woodside, although it is not in the water.
Irving Chestnut, after several years laid up at pier 9 in Halifax, was in the way and was lifted out at Woodside this summer. Built in 1953 as the US Army T-Boat T-497 it is assigned to Atlantic Towing's subsidiary Harbour Development Ltd, and was used a general purpose tug / workboat / crew boat. A  sister boat Irving Hazelnut (ex T-435) is still operating as a dredge tender. 
With a third unit Irving Walnut (ex T-425) which may have been scrapped by now, the trio were called
the "Nut Boats" and worked Saint John Harbour and the Canaport offshore tanker buoy before being signed over to the dredging fleet. They are the last of the Atlantic boats to still carry the "Irving" name - the rest of the fleet was renamed in 1996-1998.
How long the Chestnut will sit until she is broken up or refitted is anyone's guess.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pacific Hickory - return visit

Arguably the finest tug ever built on the east coast of Canada is returning to familiar waters after an extended absence. Some speculation surrounds the arrival of Pacific Hickory in Montreal (ETA October 23), but it is likely that it will be towing a former Great Lakes ship to the scrappers in Turkey. This is a bit of a comedown from some prestigious salvage and long distance tows by the same tug over its long history.

As built, the tug was painted with a buff crow's nest and white bulwarks on the forecastle deck.

Built by Saint John Shipbuilding and Dry Dock in 1973 as the Irving Miami, the tug was designed to tow massive newsprint barges from Saint John, NB to US east coast ports. Its elevated crow's nest was used when the tug was pushing the barges in estuaries and rivers to give visibility over the huge deckhouses.
Between assignments Irving Miami was also available to J.D.Irving's Atlantic Towing for other work including handling Irving Oil barges and the odd salvage and contract tows.

 The tug had an enclosed winch house and carried the "Irving" symbol on its funnels

At 140 feet long x 38' wide a depth of 21'-3" and draft of 18' and 880 grt it was certainly capable of just about any seagoing assignment. Its twin 20 cylinder GM engines developed 7200 bhp for a bollard pull of 100 tons and an advertised speed of 15 knots.

The paper barges were more like floating warehouses. They had problems keeping the cargo dry however and were eventually put to other uses.

In the long run the barges proved unsuitable for newsprint but the tug was kept busy with other assignments. It did still tow the big barges as they were converted to carry other forest products and general freight, but it was frequently used with Irving Oil tank barges.

Here with the tank barge Irving Sealion, Irving Miami is in the notch using face wires. It has also lost the buff colour except on its funnels and the white gunwale.

 In 1989 Irving Miami was paired up with a self-unloading barge the Capt. Edward V. Smith (the former laker Adam E. Cornelius). Conversion of the barge by Halifax Shipyard involved removing the engines and building a stern notch for a tug. The original ship's wheelhouse was retained for navigation. That assignment lasted for year, but replacement Arctic Nanook only lasted a year and Irving Miami was back in the notch in early 1990, but gave up the job to Magdelan Sea later in the year. 

When the J.D.Irving group of companies moved away from Irving Oil part of the Irving conglomerate the tug became available for other work and as part of a fleet-wide renaming became the Atlantic Hickory in 1995. Irving tugs were historically named for trees, with softwood (coniferous) names for inland tugs and  hardwood (deciduous) names for coastal and seagoing tugs.

 Little had changed when the tug was renamed Atlantic Hickory except for some tiny face pads just below the name and a number of tires.

Fitted somewhat snuggly in the stern notch, the tug relied on winch tension to keep itself in line with the barge. It also required a watchman in the forward bridge to con the combination.

Also in 1995 the tug was paired up again with the barge which had since been sold and renamed Seabarge One. The barge was renamed Sarah Spencer the next year and the assignment lasted until 1999 when the owners purchased the tug Jane Ann IV and fitted it and the barge with an articulation coupling system. They also installed a system so that the tug could be controlled from the barge's bridge. Atlantic Hickory had relied on old fashioned face wires, and voice commands, which was less than ideal in the Seaway locks.

Rigged for pushing, the tug had plenty of power, but less than ideal control in tight quarters.

Atlantic Hickory was once again available to Atlantic Towing and undertook a number of  assignments including work with the original barges in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Following a major refit over the winter of 2003-04 the tug was once again paired with a barge it was built to handle and assigned to work in the Caribbean.

The tug was set up to tow the barge at sea, but its high wheelhouse was essential in confined waters. During the last refit it lost its conventional lifeboats in davits and rewceived an FRC in a cradle. No doubt other improvements were made, as the tug had been continually maintained at the owner's shipyards.

Finally in 2006 the tug's registry was transferred to Dominica and in 2007 it was sold to Vancouver, BC-based Pacific Offshore Services Inc where it was renamed Pacific Hickory. Since then the tug has traded world wide with countless long haul barge and rig tows. It has also towed between the far east and Europe with barges stacked high with loads of inland barge hulls. These tows have necessitated transits around the Cape of Good Hope.

Now the tug is returning to Canadian waters - albeit briefly - as it is still proving useful to its owners despite what would be considered an advanced age for any other tug.

There are numerous photos of Pacific Hickory on line and a Google search for images will be rewarding. There are also a few You Tube videos.
They show numerous changes, including funnel extensions and the adsence of a cross bar between them. It also appears that the crowsnest windows have been plated over, altough these may  only be storm shutters. The tug has acquired at least one deck crane and a walkway round the bridge. Some of these additions were likely made during a 2007 refit, but other are newer. Commercial managers Seabridge Marine Services have published a spec sheet:


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ryan Leet - please say it ain't so

After nearly a year laid up in Sydney, NS, Ryan Leet, one of Canada's only truly ocean going tugs, has apparently been sold. Although its Canadian registry remains open, international sources indicates "owners unknown" a sure sign that something is afoot.

If that were not bad enough, those same sources list "Malta Towage Ltd" as managers. This is perhaps the most ominous sign of all. Malta Towage Ltd is not to be confused with several other reputable companies with similar names. Instead it is linked to Britannia Shipping of the UK and a notorious Irish criminal convicted of various crimes and misdemeanours in the US and the UK and under suspicion of others in Portugal and Spain. The individual has acted as broker in the sale of several ships that were later arrested for drug smuggling, but has always been acquitted of actual involvment. A recent ship sale he arranged has been barred by a court in Malta when they discovered that he owned both the buying and selling companies, the sale price was well below market value and that the sale would have deprived entitled creditors to a share of the proceeds.

Ryan Leet's (ex Salvor Commander-90, Abeille Provence-87) history has been recounted here before, so I will await further developments before re-hashing it. If I have reported the sale correctly, no good could be expected to come out of it for the tug, bringing a distinguished career to a potentially ruinous end.