1. Rowan Gorilla III arriving Halifax with Smit Singapore.In an announcement that surprised the industry, giant Svitzer (owned by A.P.Moller, Maersk) has exited the ocean towing business. Stating that ocean towing does not fit the company's business model, Svitzer Ocean Towage BV has listed its three remaining tugs for sale.
Svitzer, in its current form, much prefers terminal tug operations with contracts for services which may include line handling and other duties. This was the business that Cory Towage specialized in, and which Svitzer acquired through its purchase of Wijsmuller, thus ending up as owners of Eastern Canada Towing.
Two of the three tugs in Svitzer Ocean Towing held the title as word's most powerful for a short time. That elusive title seemed to change hands yearly in the late 1970s, but does not diminish the fact that the three are very big and very powerful boats. Built originally for Smit-Tak International Towing & Salvage of the Netherlands, they were transferred to SmitWijs Towage BV in a joint venture arrangement between Smit and Wijsmuller in 1988. When Svitzer (of Denmark) took over Wijsmuller (of the Netherlands) the big tugs formed the nucleus of Svitzer Ocean Towage BV, which remained a Dutch company, based in Hoofddorp, Netherlands.
The tugs were quite revolutionary for their time, with centre wheelhouse, twin stacks and aft facing bridge control station, similar to offshore tug/suppliers.
Two of the tugs came to Halifax in their Smit days:
Smit London was built in 1975 by Merwede in Hardinxveld, Netherlands. It and sister Smit Rotterdam
(which has not visited Halifax) were powered by four Stork diesels, producing 13,500 bhp driving twin screws in nozzles and 167 tonnes bollard pull. They were fitted for towing, salvage and fire fighting.
2. Smit London sails from Halifax, light tug, December 21, 1988. (see below for why!)
3. Smit London makes up the tow of Rowean Gorilla I December 7, 1988- read what happened below.In 1988 the tugs were renamed SmitWijs London and SmitWijs Rotterdam and with the Svitzer takeover were renamed London and Rotterdam.
The third sister, Smit Singapore was built in 1984 by Royal Niestern Sander in Delzijl to essentially the same spec, but producing 189 tonnes bollard pull. It was additionally fitted for anchor handling.
4. Smit Singapore has just towed in the rig Rowan Gorilla III from the US Gulf. The rig's legs were shortened from 605 to 370 feet to reduce stress during the tow.
5. She backs into her berth at pier 24.
6. Crew members prepare to stow the towing line.
7. The stern rails and roller get lots of wear and tear during a tow.\
Smit London had a very close call in December 1988. It left Halifax December 8 towing the jack-up drilling rig Rowan Gorilla I. On December 14 the rig began to take on water in very rough seas southeast of Nova Scotia and eventually capsized and sank. A riding crew of 27 were very lucky to be able to board and launch a rescue capsule and Smit London was able to save them all. The tug returned to Halifax December 18 where an inquiry was held. The inquiry found that the rig's hull cracked due to stresses from its 500 foot high legs. The loss of the rig prompted the end of transatlantic "wet tows" of jack ups, and lead to more dry tows (on barges) but more importantly, to the use of semi-submersible heavy lift ships, and the loss of business for tugs.
This latter development is certainly a factor in Svitzer's decision to get out of the ocean towing business. The high cost of building replacements for the aging ocean tugs would also be a factor, particularly if profit margins are thin due to the competition from alternative forms of transport.
8. Smit London sails (again). Her skipper received high praise for rescuing all 27 crew of the rig in high seas.
9. Rowan Gorilla I in October 1988. Note the extreme height of its legs.
Although all three tugs are old, Svitzer has spent a lot of money in upgrades, and all three would be excellent additions to a small fleet. My hope would be that a Canadian operator would buy at least one so that we would have a powerful potential rescue tug based on the Atlantic coast of Canada.