The oak tree is noted for its strength and durability, which may explain why it has been a favourite name for J.D.Irving / Atlantic Towing Ltd tugs.
The first to use the name was built in 1942 as Empire Spruce. Built by Richard Dunston Ltd, Thorne, UK, it was a Maple class steam tug, with a 500 ihp engine by McKie + Baxter. Intended for civilian service it was instead transferred for naval duties on the River Clyde. On January 9, 1943 it was in collision with a warship in tow at Gare Loch. Cut nearly in two it sank in 30 seconds carrying four crew to their deaths. However it was salved February 23 and taken to Glasgow where it was repaired and continued in RN service until 1945. It served briefly under civilian management with William Watkins Ltd in London, then with the Dover Harbour Board but in November 1945 returned to naval service. In March 1947 it was permanently allocated to the Admiralty and in August 1947 they renamed it Emulous.
I assume the tug was used in various naval dockyards, possibly doing some coastal towing. In 1958 it was stranded one mile east of Dover and was refloated by the Smit tug
Brandenburg. Blankenburg*. With all the salvage capability of the RN it is strange that a Dutch tug would be used, unless it happened to be on the scene and responded to the emergency. I have no reports on the extent of damage, but it appears that the Admiralty did not think it was worth repairing because they sold the tug to H.G.Pounds Ltd, of Portsmouth on March 25, 1958. It is possible that Pounds made some repairs and even operated the tug, but better known as buyers, sellers and scrappers, Pounds may have kept the tug laid up.
J.D.Irving Ltd made a mass purchase of tugs from Pounds in 1961 which included several tugs and an LST to carry some of them to Saint John. On arrival the tug was rebuilt. Work included upgraded crew accommodation and installation of a war surplus 1440 bhp V-16 GM engine, built in 1945 for an LST. On completion the tug was renamed Irving Oak signifying that it would not be used for river work (which tugs had soft wood tree names) and was put to work in general towing and ship berthing in Saint John harbour.
Next up for the Oak name was an oddity for J.D.Irving. Built for work in the Beaufort Sea by Allied Shipbuilding in North Vancouver in 1981 as Canmar Tugger a 3,050 bhp, 40 tonne bollard pull, ice class anchor handling tug, it was used almost exclusively for ocean towing. After Beaufort work shut down, the tug transferred to the east coast in 1991, via the Northwest Passage. On March 11, 1993 the tug began to take on water in Sydney, NS and the stern settled on the bottom. The wheelhouse was not submerged but the rest of the tug received considerable water damage. Atlantic Towing then bought the tug - probably for a very good price.
Atlantic Towing, in line with corporate policy renamed it Atlantic Oak.
In 2000 with newer tugs available, and ocean towing work much reduced, the tug was sold to Island Tug and Barge Ltd of Vancouver where it was renamed Island Tugger. It was initially put to work as an ITB tug, but has also been used in long range transpacific towing and into the arctic.
In 2002 Atlantic Towing took delivery of hull number 78 from East Isle Shipyard in Georgetown, PE. It was the fifteenth tug of a type built to a Robert Allen ASD design. The 4,000 bhp vessel was named Atlantic Oak. It was fully equipped with a towing winch and firefighting gear.
While some of the Georgetown tugs were built for their own account Atlantic Towing sold several of the tugs to overseas buyers after some limited use by ATL. In 2003 the second Atlantic Oak was sold to Dominican Republic owners Remolcadores Dominicanos and renamed Ocoa. It is still in service.
ATL eventually completed a joint venture with Svitzer wherein ATL took over tug operations in Halifax Harbour. Due to the size of ships coming to the port tethered escort tugs had become mandatory and ATL had the next tug built specifically for that service in Halifax. East Isle Hull No.81, the 18th tug in the series at 5,050 bhp and 66 tonnes bollard pull became the third Atlantic Oak. That tug is still in service in Halifax and shares tethered escort and general docking duties with three other tugs.