Friday, June 23, 2017

Quebec Shakeup

A major shakeup in the Quebec tug scene can be summarized as "Svitzer out / Ocean in".
Svitzer Canada, part of the multi-national tug operator, a subsidiary of the giant AP Moller-Maersk shipping conglomerate has opted to discontinue its short lived four tug Montreal operation, selling most of its local assets to Groupe Océan.


Ocean had been the sole operator in the Port of Montreal since acquiring the former McAllister business. It appears now that loyalty to Océan was strong enough that Svitzer could not gain traction.

Svitzer Montréal refitting in Halifax shortly before taking up station in Montreal in the spring of 2016. The tug was transferred from Svitzer's operation in the Dominican Republic.

When Svitzer moved in last year, it was largely on the basis of having longstanding relationships with Algoma and CSL and of course to service Maersk Lines one weekly container ship. Whether parent company Maersk's financial belt tightening was a factor or not, there apparently was not enough business to sustain the operation.


Svitzer operated its service in Montreal initially with two tugs, which did double duty, by spending the summer in the high arctic at the Baffinland iron port at Milne Inlet, serving the Mary River mine. Océan originally had the Baffinland contract, and built two 8,000 bhp super tugs, Océan Tundra and Océan Taiga especially for the work, which was expected to extend to year round. When the Baffinland project stalled and ArcelorMittal gained control of the project in 2011 Svitzer wound up with the tug contract. The completed Océan Tundra found some work as an escort tug out of Quebec City, but construction of Océan Taiga was slowed down and only completed in 2016 due to a lack of demand for the vessels.

Svitzer Nerthus and Svitzer Njal after fitting out in Halifax, are almost ready to sail for their first season at Milne Inlet.


Svitzer Njal and Svitzer Nerthus were brought back to Canada by Svitzer in 2016, but at 5,000 bhp, they would only be able to work seasonally in the far north (July - October). As ice class tugs however, they are quite suitable for year round work in Montreal. They will be fulfilling the Baffinland contract this summer too, but at the end of the season they will become Océan tugs.

Baffinland had originally planned a year round rail line operating to a port on Steensby Inlet, which would be accessible to larger ships and presumably require larger tugs for year round service. It now seems they will build the rail line to Milne River instead, replacing the present 100km tote road for trucks. This will allow the mine to reach its 12 mn tonnes per year shipping target. They also plan to bring in ships of up to capesize, which will also require larger tugs.

Of the four Montreal based tugs, only Svitzer Cartier was not built by Eastisle Shipyard in Georgetown, PE. The Chinese built tug is the only Voith-Schneider tug in the lot.

Svitzer acquired two more tugs for Quebec work. Svitzer Cartier, a Chinese built V-S tug initially arrived to provide additional tug service for Port-Cartier, where ArcelorMittal has a major iron ore and grain port, and two aging V-S tugs of its own.  Svitzer Cartier apparently did not work out well at Port-Cartier and was transferred to Montreal. Its fate is unknown at this time, but may be acquired by Océan.


Océan has now also acquired the tug contract for Port-Cartier and will be moving two of its tugs there later in the year, replacing the ArcelorMittal owned tugs Brochu and Vachon. V-S tugs, they were adept at working in the tight confines of Port-Cartier, but Océan has no V-S tugs of comparable power, so it will interesting to know what tugs they will be using. They will have several tugs coming back from Newfoundland now that the Hebron gravity base project is complete.


Earlier this year Océan was awarded the operating contract for the V-S tug Pointe-Comeau, based in Baie-Comeau, and owned by Cargill Grain. The tug was under Svitzer (and previously Eastern Canada Towing) management since it was built in 1977. In fact predecessor copmay Foundation Maritime managed the Cargill owned Foundation Vibert from when it was built in 1961. It became Point Vibert under ECTUG management until replaced by Pointe-Comeau


The fourth Montreal tug, Svitzer Montreal (ex Caucedo) at 4500 bhp ASD will be sold to Océan and could be used in any one of several ports served by Océan. Three of the four tugs should be a good fit in the Océan stable, since they were built by Eastisle in Georgetown, PE to the same basic design as eight of Océan's tugs.


Océan now has a tight lock on all St.Lawrence River ports, as the exclusive tug operator with tugs based in Sept-Iles, Port Cartier, Baie-Comeau, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Sorel and Montreal.

(In 2012 Océan won the Iron Ore Company of Canada contract at Sept-Iles held by Svitzer and predecessors since the 1950s. It also bought ECTUG's two Sept-Iles icebreaking tugs.)

Océan also operates tugs on the Great Lakes to serve Hamilton, Toronto and Oshawa and a small tug in the port of Goderich.


Business prospects for the port of Montreal in particular appear to be on the upswing, as the port shows increased container and tanker traffic. The St.Lawrence River can now accommodate much larger ships. although draft restriction still apply.

Svitzer is now reduced back to three tugs at Point Tupper, NS: Point Chebucto, Point Valiant and Svitzer Bedford. The rather surprising move to Montreal was a bit unusual for Svitzer, a company noted for negotiating long term terminal contracts, rather than speculative ventures into unknown territory.

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Craig Trans - another chapter, but maybe not the last

It is time to record another chapter in the saga of the tug Craig Trans but perhaps not the last one.

To summarize the previous chapter. After appearing in Halifax in late 2012 and detained by authorities, the tug kicked around various piers until ending up in Wright's Cove (Lower Burnside) at the old Secunda Marine pier. Since its American owner abandoned the tug, and its crew, a Sheriff's sale eventually went through (for around $1,000) last year, but the tug remained there until Thursday June 1 when it was towed out of Halifax by Dominion Victory and landed yesterday morning (June 2) in the remote port of Marie Joseph on Nova Scotia's eastern shore. (About 175 km NE of Halifax, at nearly 45 degrees N).
With nothing much doing in Halifax harbour today (June 3) I made the 353 km round trip to Marie Joseph to investigate. [I have travelled farther to see a tug, but will not divulge the distance.]


The tug is now beached beside the former Canadian Coast Guard ship Tupper that has been an eyesore there since 2011. (It was also towed by the Dominion Victory).  A resident of Marie Joseph, who lives across the street (which is Nova Scotia Highway No.7), began to break up the ship, but ran into numerous legal hurdles coupled with the collapse of scrap prices. Nevertheless he acquired the Craig Trans ostensibly to scrap it, but perhaps to try to salvage something of value from it.


Local residents, mostly inshore fishermen, are quite sick of seeing the partially dismantled ex Tupper, where there has been little activity for more than a year. They told me this morning that the Craig Trans would not be broken up there in their lifetimes, so there may be another chapter in this story.

Interestingly the Canadian government announced new legislation this week to clean up derelict vessels in ports and harbours around the country (more than 600 by some accounts), but it is not clear if the laws would apply to the ex Tupper and Craig Trans which are merely unsightly.


Dominion Victory started life as the trawler Vilmont No.2 in 1965 at les chantiers maritimes de Paspebiac. It was renamed Raymond Moore in 1983 and Alcide C. Horth in 1994 and worked as a research vessel for the Quebec government and the Université de Quebec, Rimouski.
Dominion Diving acquired the vessel in 2004 and since then it has carried out a variety of chores for underwater work including operating an ROV. It has also done it share of towing work, although not strictly speaking a tug.

To summarize the CCGS Tupper's history - it was built in 1959 in Sorel, QC and retired in 1996 having worked out of Halifax (Dartmouth) and Charlottetown for most of its career. It was renamed 1998-05 and sold to an owner that had plans to convert it to an expedition yacht. It was renamed Caruso and registered in Panama, but that was as far as the conversion got. It kicked around various berths in Halifax  and Sheet Harbour, but finally caught fire in Dartmouth October 11, 2008. It was sold to the Marie Joseph scrapper and towed out June 22, 2011.

A brief recap on Craig Trans. Built in 1943 by the Tampa Marine Corp for the US Army it was named LT 648. It was laid up from about 1950 to 1965 until acquired by Foss Maritime of Seattle and rebuilt as Craig Foss. They replaced the original 1225 bhp FM engine with a pair of EMDs totaling 4,000 bhp. The tug worked the Hawaii and Alaska barge runs for Foss. It carried out other work, including a trip to the Great Lakes in 1978.
Foss finally disposed of the tug in 2011 and it became Craig Trans for shadowy owners with Haitian connections. It was involved in scrap tows to Mexico and in 2012 was headed for Beauharnois, QC to take the Kathryn Spirit in tow to scrappers in Mexico. However it was late in the season and it was doubtful if it would make it to the Seaway before winter closing as the tug was losing power. It was diverted to Halifax and detained here for numerous deficiencies by Ship Safety. The Honduran crew were eventually repatriated through charitable donations after the US based owner walked away.

By coincidence, only now is the Kathryn Spirt being demolished in situ at Beauharnois, after several years of wrangling with the scrapper, the municipality and various authorities. The ship was a similar eyesore to local residents.

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