Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Atlantic Griffon starts sea trials

 (file photo taken in November)

There is not much to add to the title of this post. The vessel went to sea today, after a compass swing,  and returned this evening. It will go to Bedfrod Basin tomoorow mrning then out to sea again.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

St.Lawrence Shakeup

Canadian tug owners, although business competitors, have also co-operated with each other from time to time when needed. These more or less amicable arrangements have seemed strained on the St.Lawrence River however. Groupe Océan and Svitzer Canada are now vying for the same work and are ''duking it out'' in several ports. I wouldn't call it a war, but there have been several skirmishes and a couple of battles.

The first, and perhaps most surprising was the battle of Sept-Iles. Océan outbid Svitzer for the Iron Ore Company of Canada contract in Sept-Iles, long the turf of Svitzer, going back through Eastern Canada Towing, and MIL Tug to Foundation Maritime. In the 1950s Foundation stationed tugs in the port as it was developing into the iron ore hub of Canada. The Foundation Victor (1956) and Foundation Valour (1958) were built to work in the port, with their high wheelhouses to see the decks of bulk ore carriers.

Foundation Victor was built to work in Sept-Iles in the summer and Halifax in the winter. From its  high wheelhouse the master had a clear of the the decks of bulk carriers.

The second generation Pointe-aux-Basques (1972) and Pointe-Marguerite (replaced by Pointe-Sept-Iles in 1980) 4300 bhp twin screw tugs with ice breaking bows, were also built for the port.

Pointe-Sept Iles also had a high wheelhouse, even though bulkers had become much larger. It was also ice class as the port had become a year round operation.

It was a major surprise when Océan won the contract away from Svitzer in 2012, but they had already established a presence in Sept-Iles Bay working the other side of the harbour at Pointe-Noire. Océan ended up buying both of Svitzer's Sept-Iles tugs and bringing two Canadian built tugs back from Denmark. A major downturn in iron ore production in Labrador and in Quebec has reduced the shipping in Sept-Iles Bay, but Océan has Océan Arctique and Océan Sept-Iles (ex Pointe-Sept-Iles) stationed there.

Svitzer Cartier was brought in to work at Port Cartier, but its contract was not renewed. It now works in Montreal.

In 2015 Svitzer brought in Svitzer Cartier (ex Svitzer Wombi, Hai Gang 107) a Chinese built 5400 bhp VS tractor to assist ArcelorMittal's two VS tugs in Port-Cartier. That service was short lived, and late last year Océan announced that it had formalized an agreement whereby Océan Arctique would come in from nearby Sept-Iles to assist as needed.

Stevns Arctic about to be re-launched after completion at Halifax Shipyard. The tug worked in Europe until Groupe Océan brought it back to Canada and renamed it Océan Arctique.

ArcelorMittal's Brochu and Vachon - both 1972, 3600bhp VS are ideal for working the tight confines of Port-Cartier, but there is more work there than two tugs can handle thanks to continued iron ore cargo and grain exports. It will be interesting to see if an ASD can cut it in that port.

What really broke the truce, if any, however was Svitzer's combined move into Montreal and Baffin Island.

Montreal had been the turf of McAllister Towing since the 1950s, when the New York based company established a Canadian branch run by Donal McAllister. It consolidated a slightly rag tag operation of old steam tugs when the St.Lawrence Seaway opened also taking in Pyke Salvage of Kingston, ON. When Groupe Océan took over the former McAllistewr operation, and again modernized the fleet, they had the port to themselves.

Océan also had the contract for the Baffinland iron mine project and built the 8,000 bhp super-ice clas tugs Océan Tundra and Océan Taiga for the work. They also built smaller tugs and acquired barges to build the port and provide lighterage services there. However when the project was delayed, ArcelorMittal ended up in control and awarded a new tug contract to Svitzer.

Svitzer Nerthus and Svitzer Njal, both Canadian-built ice class 5,000 bhp ASDs built in 2009 were brought back from Denmark for the seasonal arctic work, then assigned to Montreal in winter. Now joined by Svitzer Cartier and Svitzer Montréal they are eating into Océan's work  Rumours persist that Svitzer may bring in more two tugs for that port.

The latest salvo appeared this month when Océan announced that they had been awarded management of the tug Pointe-Comeau by Cargill Grain Co Ltd in Baie-Comeau. Despite its name, the tug has always been owned by Cargill, but has been managed since it was built in 1977 by Eastern Canada Towing  (which became Svitzer.) Even its predecessor tug Foundation Vibert was built in 1961 for Cargill Grain and was managed by Foundation, then MIL, then ECTUG, even being renamed Point Vibert while under Cargill ownership and ECTUG management.

Purchased by ECTUG and reassigned to Halifax after being replaced by Pointe-Comeau, Point Vibert's skipper had a good view of the lines up to the bulker's deck. It was one of the few twin screw tugs in the fleet, but that feature helped it in the tight confines of Baie-Comeau.

Pointe-Comeau in ECTUG colours, came to Halifax for drydocking in 1998.

Pointe-Comeau has been covered in these pages before, but to repeat, it was built by Marystown Shipyard in Newfoundland in 1977.  A 3600 bhp Voith Schneider tug, it is well suited for the tight confines of Baie-Comeau's aluminum, grain and paper company piers.

Pointe-Comeau now in Svitzer colours has been stationed at Baie-Comeau since built, and has always been owned by the Cargill Grain Co. Ltd.

Now we enter the speculation stage. When RioTintoAlcan replaced its tugs in La Baie with ASDs, their Alexis Simard, a 3290 bhp VS tug, built in 1980 was orphaned. Groupe Océan, which had been providing supplementary tug service in La Baie, took over the tug in 2011 and renamed it Océan A. Simard. They stationed it in Baie-Comeau for a time, going head to head with Pointe-Comeau. That did not pan out, and for the plast few years the tug has been working in Newfoundland on the Hebron Gravity base project. With that project coming to an end, it will again be looking for work.  (As will other Océan tugs)
If there are VS tugs needed in Port Cartier and in Baie-Comeau, it will be interesting to see where Océan A.Simard ends up. 

Océan A. Simard will be re-assigned when its work in Newfoundland is completed.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Atlantic Kingfisher - back to its roots

Atlantic Towing Ltd's supplier Atlantic Kingfisher returned to its roots in Halifax January 4 . The ship was built by Halifax Shipyard and launched September 7, 2002 and it was registered in Halifax December 27, 2002.

Its very first job was a cable repair project off Rimouski, QC, and it was fitted out for that work in January 2003, sailing from Halifax January 23 and returning February 1.

This time round it will be a re-run, although perhaps not with the same dates.  After tying up at IT International Telecom's base at pier 9 on Wednesday, it went to Imperial Oil for bunkers yesterday and returned to pier 9. (I would have a picture, but a zero visibility snow squall hit as it passed my vantage point).

Today a crane was fitting stern slides over the stern roller. It also has some containerized workshops installed on deck for cable splicing and testing.

Atlantic Kingfisher is part of the second pair of tug suppliers built for Atlantic Towing Ltd by Halifax Shipyard. It is a U722L class (L standing for LONG). The 16,100 bhp vessel is powered by four 6 cyl Bergens through twin cp screws in fixed nozzles and has a bollard pull in the 170 tonne range.

After its first cable job, the tug has worked largely from Newfoundland but has towed the rig Henry Goodrich from the Gulf of Mexico to Newfoundland and towed the FPSO Terra Nova from its offshore position to Rotterdam.and back.

All Atlantic Towing Ltd offshore vessels are named for birds. Most of the names chosen have no particular significance (e.g. Atlantic Condor is a non-sequitur, since condors are Pacific birds), but the kingfisher has long been the symbol for the City of Halifax.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Famous names may vanish

There are now scores of famous tug owning company names that have disappeared as the gradual consolidation of the tug industry continues. Even such well known companies such as Smit have not been immune to takeover - in its case by Boskalis - losing its colour scheme and funnel mark, but still retaining some Smit names.

While tug companies used to be small scale or even family owned, the pressures of competition in the now capital intensive industry have forced many small operators to capitulate to the big owners and sell out or just fold up. Strategic alliances even among big players are now common as they try to serve a larger shipping industry that is intensely competitive  (Smit and Kotug for instance). The big shipping owners are doing long term deals with international tug operators, squeezing out smaller firms. The shipping companies themselves are struggling against diminished cargoes, and an oversupply of larger ships that require powerful tugs at bargain rates.

The freer movement of tugs around the world has allowed tug operators to work well beyond their traditional borders as they also become international businesses. Protective regulations in ports have been contested and new operators have moved onto once protected turf, outside their original nation.

Europe has certainly been the most competitive, and the most consolidating as the British, French and Dutch mergers and acquisitions have taken place over a couple of decades.

Germany has been feeling the pressures as Dutch (Kotug, paired with Smit) and Svitzer have moved into once exclusive territories of Hamburg and Bremen/Bremerhaven.

Lutgeans + Reimers began operating tugs in Hamburg in 1872. This tug, dating from 1923, worked in Hamburg until 1982. It was converted to diesel in 1957.
(The ship in the background appears to be the Resolute :

Hamburg is an interesting example, where the local tug companies, some of them very small, long had a co-operative arrangement where the tugs are dispatched in proportion to their share of the co-op and used a uniform tarif to protect larger crew sizes. Unfortunately this arrangement did not inspire the tug owners to keep up with the times, and when new larger ships came along, the Dutch Kotug moved in in 1993 and "poached" a lot of the business and contracted directly with shipping lines, with new powerful tugs, smaller crews and fiercely competitive rates.
See my June 2014 post on the Hamburg combine:


Prompt is one of four similar Damen ASD 2411 tugs serving Hamburg's Lutgens + Reimers. The 5500 bhp 71mt BP tug was built in 2013. Two more were delivered in 2015 and one in 2016.

Despite recent efforts to upgrade their fleets and reduce crews, the competition continues. News is now out that Linhoff, the parent company of Lutgens + Reimers of Hamburg and Unterweser Reederei AG [URAG] which serves Bermen / Bremerhaven  and area is in financial peril and appears ready to sell out to the Spanish super Boluda Corporacion Maritima. Boluda swallowed the well known French company Les Abeilles in 2007 and is apparently hungry for more central European presence.

If the deal goes through it will see Boluda going head to head with Kotug/Smit and Svitzer..

Svitzer recently contracted for the work of parent company Maersk and Smit/Kotug got MSC in Bremerhaven pushing Linhoff to the wall.

A present day member of the URAG fleet, Turm was built in 2001 and is a 5,090 bhp, 60mt BP Voith-Schneider seagoing and harbour tug. Aside from one seagoing tug the URAG fleet is all V-S.

The combined fleet of URAG and L+R numbers 20 tugs, so it is a small operator by world standards. While now largely confined to the Elbe / Weser area, it once stretched a bit farther afield.

Read a brief history on URAG's web site: http://www.urag.de/about-us/history/

In the late 1950s and in to the 1960s the company was active in international towing and their tugs did come to Canada from time to time, often towing old ships to scrap in Britain, Spain and Italy. The two tugs Rotesand (1961. 2400 bhp) and Robenplatte (1963. 1800 bhp), between 1964 and 1970 made seven and three transatlantic trips respectively, towing twelve and three ships total.

Rotesand usually towed two ships at a time. One such tow departed Lévis, QC May 22, 1968. The tow consisted of the laker Blanche Hindman and the old US passenger ferry Florida that had been used at Expo 67 in Montreal as Le Palais Flotant.
Thanks to the late Dan McCormick I have three photos in my collection taken by his friend the late Phil Damon, from the Quebec / Lévis ferry the day before the departure.

Rotesand  with tow line rigged. The famous URAG flag is on the funnel.
Note the canvas dodgers on the bridge wings. This would be the only place where the watchman could see the tow with any shelter. The open flying bridge would not likely be used in mid-Atlantic!

The 1931 built Florida must have been an unwieldy tow due to windage. The laker Blanche Hindman is out of the picture on the left.

A manila tow line is faked out on deck, and there are lines from a towing hook and from a winch. This indicates that each of the ships had its own tow line from the tug - one long line and one shorter. 

Rotesand delivered the tows to the breakers at Santander, Spain June 16, 1968, after a 24 day tow.

When URAG disposed of Rotesand it went to another German owner, Ludwig Harms, as Salus, then to Petersen + Alpers as their Hanseat in 1974. It was sold to J.Johansen + Sohn of Lubeck in 1983 and as Eduard was lost in 1984.

Linhoff, the owner of L+R and URAG, is a family owned marine conglomerate, based in Buxtehude and consists of eight businesses, including boatmen services, helicopters, offshore wind services and engineering, acquired in 2001 from Preussag. Preussag was the majority owner of Hapag-Lloyd at the time, but renamed itself TUI in 2002, sold off Hapag and bought into the tourism business, including airlines.

Linhoff maintained the historic identity of its two tug companies, but as the deal closes at the end of 2016,
it seems likely that these famous company names will disappear like so many others.


Monday, December 26, 2016

NTCL - 11th hour deal

A last minute deal, filed only two days before NTCL (Northern Transportation Co Ltd) would be declared bankrupt, has apparently given some reassurance that northern Canadian communities may be supplied by water transportation again in 2017.

The company was forced into creditor protection after years of losses.  After the court appointed monitor sold off non-core assets (four tugs and a dozen barges) it began to search for potential buyers to run the company as a going concern. The "Sale and Investment Solicitation Process (SISP) resulted in only one potential buyer, but that deal did not go through when the bidder backed out.

An unsolicited offer then appeared from 2006647 Alberta Ltd (a mystery buyer! never identified) which the court appointed monitor was ready to recommend to the court at a December 15, 2016 hearing. The offer was conditional on financing, for 12 tugs, 73 barges and some miscellaneous equipment and real estate, but was apparently bona fide and would at least return something to the creditors (including the seriously underfunded employee pension plan). The company's remaining assets would then have be auctioned off, likely for scrap value.

Then on December 13 another unsolicited offer arrived, from none other than the Government of the Northwest Territories as represented by the Minister of Public Works and Services.  Much to the consternation of the monitor, the new bidder was aware of the amount of the other bid, which was in fact no secret, since it had been released to some contestants for creditor status.

Nevertheless the government bid was higher, was unconditional and also offered to acquire some additional assets to those bid on by 2006647. Therefore the monitor recommended it to the court (with reservations) and it appears to have been accepted without conditions, except the usual formalities.

So now it appears that the NWT government is in the tug and barge business, having acquired 12 tugs, 73 barges and a long list of miscellaneous items including a dry storage area for the miserable amount of $4.5 mn. (NTCL had debts of $130 mn on April 27, 2016, and a book value of nearly $45 mn.).

How many of those tugs and barges the NWT will be able to put in service for 2017 and how it will be able to manage the 2017 supply operation will be watched very closely by many.

Perhaps the government will hire back those laid off employees and begin to make up the $22mn pension shortfall left by the previous owners. It likely won't be doing it out of profits, however. The operation needs an investment infusion for new equipment - especially double hulled fuel barges, and some tugs.

The recent federal government five year "moratorium" on northern oil drilling will be another blow to potential profits, but it seems to me that this form of northern transportation is so essential to western arctic life that it has to be operated as a public service.


The roots of the Northern Transportation Co Ltd go well back in time. However the essential nature of the work has not changed. Somehow navigate barge loads of supplies through extremely shallow waterways during a short operational season.

In 1937 the noted naval architects Milne, Gilmore and German designed a pair of tugs for just such work. They were built by Marine Industries Ltd (known then as Manseau Shipyards Ltd) in Sorel, QC, disassembled, transported by rail, water and overland and reassembled in the north, by workers from Sorel. They were of all welded construction (still a novelty in 1937).
The following scans may not be entirely legible, so the captions summarize the details:

Radium King 115 grt, 2 x 240 bhp Gleniffer, twin screws in tunnels
95'-6" loa x 20'-6" x 6'-3" depth, 4'-3" maximum draft, accommodation for 11 crew and 6 passengers
for service on Slave River, Great Slave Lake and Mackenzie River.
This pioneering craft was retired in 1967, but has been preserved at Forth Smith, NWT.

Radium Queen 108 grt, 2 x 160 bhp Gleniffer, twin screws in tunnels
86'-3" loa x 20' x 5'-0" depth, 1'-9" maximum draft, accommodation for 11 crew and 6 passengers
for service on the Athabasca and Slave Rivers between Fort McMurray and Fort Fitzgerald.

The first of the two to be shipped to Waterways, AB - then end of rail - Radium Queen was assembled then towed the partly assembled Radium King to Fort Smith. Radium King was then hauled 16 miles overland in pieces by tractors, and finally assembled in Fort Fitzgerald.

Both tugs were later repowered:  Radium King with two 10 cyl Vivians in 1945 for 550 bhp and Radium Queen with two 4 cylinder GMs in 1948 for 500 bhp.

Their flying bridges were also enclosed with wheelhouses of essntially the same size as the lower one.

As to the NTCL assets previously sold by the monitor, there has only been one change of name so far.
The barge NT 1511 has been renamed Qamani'Tuaq by Transport Desgagnés Inc. They had been chartering the barge in the eastern arctic since 2013.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

My favourite tug, the Point Halifax, was delivered in late 1986 - the same year that Shipfax began as a newsletter.
It was sold to McKeil Marine in 2012 and renamed Leonard M.
It was the first ASD tug in Halifax, rated at 4200 bhp and 62 tons bollard pull.

Seen here from the wheelhouse of the Point Vibert while docking the tanker Ambra Dolphin at the Ultramar dock, Eastern Passage, Halifax, February 6, 1992.

Thanks to the followers - regular and occasional - for your support, comments and corrections during 2016.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Maersk Bonavista gone to breakers

An offshore tug, best remembered as Maersk Bonavista has now been sold to breakers in Chittagong, Bangladesh. It was built however as Bonavista Bay for Husky Bow Valley, and served under that name from 1983 to 1988.

As delivered the unique vessels also had a unique colour scheme of very deep blue and red hull. The red funnel continued the hull red colour and the white band carried the familiar Husky silhouette.

A product of the now defunct Vito Steel Boat + Barge Construction Ltd in Delta, BC, it was one of six sisters, four built in Korea, and the fifth, Placentia Bay by Bel-Aire Shipyard in North Vancouver. 
The unique looking craft, were powered by four MaK engines, each 2720 bhp, producing a respectable 125 tonne bollard pull, through two controllable pitch props in nozzles. They also had three thrusters at 800 bhp each, two forward an one aft. The had accommodation for 14 crew and 8 passengers.

Bonavista Bay and Placentia Bay arrived in Halifax together June 23, 1983, fresh from the builders, via the Panama Canal.

In 1988 Maersk made its foray into Canada by acquiring the entire fleet of six, and quickly renaming them by removing "Bay" and adding "Maersk". It was some time before they were fully repainted.

When Maersk took over and renamed the tugs, they changed the funnel marking immediately, but left the hull until the next refit.

Maersk became fully established in Newfoundland, but the tugs did work from Halifax at various times.

Under Maersak ownership, they wore the equally distinctive and traditional Maersk blue hull and tan superstructure found on Maersk cargo ships and tankers.

In 2006 Maersk Bonavista was reflagged to the Bahamas and in December 2007 it was sold to Rolf Berg Drive of Norway and renamed Drive Bonavista. It is under that name that its sale was announced this week.
AIS positioning for the tug shows it anchored in the Bay of Bengal since December 16. It had completed a time charter to the Gujarat State Petroleum Corp in June 2016.