The energized port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been turning in record numbers for the shipping business while two modern and well-financed tugboat companies are competing for the estimated $5 million to $10 million worth of tug business in the port.
For the sixth consecutive year, more than half a million TEUs were shipped through Halifax in 2005. The total number of 550,462 TEUs was a 4.7 percent increase over the prior year. In terms of general cargo, both export and import cargo increased by close to 5 percent in the past year.
Meanwhile, both Atlantic Towing Ltd., owned by the Irving Group, and Eastern Canada Towing (Ectug), owned by the Svitzer/Wijsmuller Group, have introduced large, modern, tractor-style tugs to their fleets in the past year.
Halifax, located on the eastern (Atlantic) side of Nova Scotia, offers a year-round, deep-water port servicing Eastern Canada and, indirectly, the East Coast of the United States. Port officials claim that Halifax boasts the only seaport on the East coast of North America deep enough to accommodate fully laden post-Panamax vessels. The port bills itself as the third busiest port in Canada behind Vancouver and Montreal.
Ectug has been the primary tug company in Halifax for years, while Atlantic Towing has been dominant in its homeport of St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the Bay of Fundy. Beginning last year, however, Atlantic Towing began to move in on the Halifax business.
Since the introduction of a number of Irving-owned oilfield supply vessels working out of Halifax, Atlantic Towing has taken advantage of that base of operations to open new areas of business. The company has been handling large tankers at nearby Port Hawkesbury and has been working with smaller tankers and bulk freighters in the port of Halifax. Beginning this year, however, Atlantic has gotten into the container ship berthing business. The tugs Atlantic Hemlock and Atlantic Oak docked the post-Panamax container ship OOCL Chicago on its first arrival at the port in January.
Meanwhile, Ectug expects a boost in business this year from servicing Maersk Line’s new container business in Halifax – a natural expectation considering that Ectug’s owner is a unit of A.P. Moller Maersk.
Two new Atlantic Towing tugs in the past year, Atlantic Fir and Atlantic Cedar, are 5,100 hp z-drive tractors built by Irving’s East Isle shipyard on Prince Edward Island. These are upgraded versions of a Robert Allan design with Caterpillar power, Rolls-Royce drive units and a European-made Ridderinkhof ship-assist hawser winch. Atlantic Cedar has been deployed under full-time contract to service large tankers arriving at the Canaport offshore mooring facility in New Brunswick.
Ectug’s new 4,900 hp tug, Svitzer Bedford, was delivered in late 2005 by the Chilean shipyard ASENAV, where she was built to Transport Canada standards. The Fifi-1-class tug with an ice-strengthened hull can produce 63 tons of bollard pull with a similar power package.
Ectug has operated in Canada since the early 1920s, although it has been European-owned for many years. The company operates four other tractor-style tugs, including three z-drives and a cycloidal-drive vessel, out of its base in Halifax.
Atlantic Towing, formed just after World War II as a division of the J.D. Irving Company, has long provided tug service to Irving tankers and general cargo ships in the port of St. John’s. Atlantic currently operates seven similar Robert Allan designed z-drive tractor tugs in its fleet, plus half a dozen conventional tugs. The company recently hired American tractor tug consultant Greg Brooks to conduct a weeklong training program for crewmembers, employing classroom training, tug-on-tug training and actual practice with full-size arriving container vessels working with local pilots.
The first tugs delivered to Atlantic in this series were 4,000-hp vessels. The newer arrivals, however, have been upped to 5,000 hp with larger escort skegs to improve their performance in the indirect and powered-indirect modes of towing, according to Brooks.
Atlantic towing has been operating in Halifax for about a year, but has a long way to go to catch up to Ectug in terms of business.
“It’s our long term goal to capture that larger market share,” said Olous Boag, operations manager of Atlantic Towing’s Halifax operation.
Atlantic Towing keeps two z-drive tractors on station in Halifax, with more available nearby from Point Tupper on Cape Breton Island. Ectug, by comparison keeps four tugs regularly available in Halifax.
One small piece of business that Atlantic Towing has picked up is helping build jack-up drilling rigs in the port when they are towed in for maintenance by Atlantic’s big offshore supply vessels. Those 247-foot OSVs, which were originally based in Halifax, are more recently working out of the port of St. John’s, according to Boag.
Both Atlantic Towing and Ectug are also hoping to get a piece of LNG action as it develops both on the New Brunswick coast and on Cape Breton Island in the next few years.
Irving’s East Isle shipyard, meanwhile, has recently been building tugs for European customers, while the next new vessel due out for Atlantic Towing is slated for delivery some time in 2007.