It is hardly a race, but Bouchard Transportation of New York finished up in 2006 with the largest fleet of articulated tug barges (ATBs) in the nation. Other East Coast companies, notably Penn Maritime and K-Sea Transportation, are seemingly working hard to best the Bouchard ATB fleet.
At the end of the year Bouchard, which has been converting existing tug-barge assets to ATBs as well as building new ones, counted 12 such units in its fleet, along with eight conventional wire units. A 13th unit — a converted tug and new barge — is in the works, and others will undoubtedly follow.
Bouchard, a family-owned company based in Melville, N.Y., transports clean oil, black oil and asphalt, operating primarily along the East and Gulf coasts.
Since 1997, all of the company’s new construction and conversions have been done by Bollinger Shipyards of Louisiana. All of the company’s ATBs are fitted with a coupler system provided by Intercontinental Engineering of Kansas City, Mo.
Bouchard continues on a long-term business plan that was implemented back in 1990 and is working toward an all-double-hull barge fleet with emphasis on articulated tug-barge technology. Starting this year the company had 15 double-hull barges that comply with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 in a fleet of about 25.
In 2006 Bouchard took delivery from Bollinger of a new 6,140-hp tug, Linda Lee Bouchard, along with a new 110,000-barrel heated-oil barge, B-205. Also delivered from the shipyard last year was the 5,100-hp refurbished tug Rhea Bouchard, along with the new barge, B-280, also with 110,000-barrel capacity.
Like all recent Bouchard newbuilds, Linda Lee Bouchard is an EMD-powered, SOLAS-rated tug with the latest in ATB technology and with an Intercon towing winch. Other on-board power sources are three John Deere auxiliary power generators and a fourth, SOLAS-required emergency generator.
Bouchard will also be taking delivery of the converted and refurbished tug M/V Bouchard Girls and barge B.No.295 in July 2007, and three additional new barges in 2007 and 2008.
There are roughly 70 so-called ATBs of all kinds operating in U.S. and Canadian waters. The majority of them are liquid bulk carriers of petroleum or chemical products. Articulated tugs and barges are locked together in the notch of the barge in such a way as to allow separate pitching movements by the tug and barge while keeping the two vessels locked together for rolling motion.
Penn Maritime, which already counts 10 ATB units in its fleet of tugs and barges, has five new tugs under order with the Thoma-Sea Boatbuilders in Louisiana, each to be matched with a new barge being built at the Corn Island Shipyard in Indiana. Each of these units will be fitted with a JAK coupler system supplied by Beacon Finland Ltd. of Finland.
Market heating up for coupler systems
With increasing numbers of tugs and barges being connected by articulated coupler systems, competition is intensifying among providers of those systems.
Intercontinental Engineering of Kansas City (Intercon), long perceived as providing the Cadillac of tug-barge connection systems, may still have the largest share of the market, but the arena is crowded with competitors offering systems that are marketed as being less expensive, lighter and less intrusive.
Intercon’s rivals include systems sold under the names JAK, Bludworth and Bark River.
The JAK system, manufactured and marketed by Beacon Finland Ltd. of Finland, has made steady inroads into the North American market since it was first introduced. After a temporary setback due to legal problems a couple of years ago, Beacon has won over several U.S. tug-barge companies, notably Penn Maritime, which previously used the Intercon system almost exclusively.
Penn, which moves petroleum products, particularly asphalt, with a fleet of 14 tugs and 20 barges, converted one of its tug-barge units to the JAK system in 2006 and is currently building five new tugs with matching barges, all connected by the same system.
Other recent converts to the JAK system include Express Marine of Camden, N.J., with one conversion and one new-build; Reinauer Transportation of New York with a couple of JAK conversions and one newbuild underway; and K-Sea Transportation, which already has 10 JAK systems in service with more on the way.
Another persistent competitor in the American market is Texas-based Bludworth Cook Marine. As of 2006, there were an estimated 26 tug-barges with Bludworth connection systems operating in the United States and Canada, second only to an estimated 34 units equipped with Intercon systems.
In the last year Bludworth has increased its presence with conversion of the 7,200-hp tug Samuel de Champlain and its new barge Innovation, operating on the Great Lakes for Lafarge/American Transport Leasing. Other new Bludworth systems include two tug-barge conversions for Maritrans Operating Partners (now OSG America), and upcoming conversions of the tugs LaForce by Martin Midstream of Texas and the tug Beverly Anderson by TECO Ocean Shipping of Florida.
There are basic design differences between these three coupler systems. The Intercon system involves electrically operated, gear-driven rams that project from the sides of a tug to engage a vertical ladder structure built into the walls of a barge’s stern notch. The port and starboard pins allow the tug to pitch in the notch, independent of barge movement, while still pushing ahead.
The JAK system is similar, but its pins are designed differently, engaging in holes on the barge and operated by air and hydraulic systems. The Bludworth system uses a horizontal, articulating connecting pin built into the bow of the tug, which locks it into the barge notch, combined with expandable pads built into the side of the tug.
There are a few versions of the Japanese systems Artubar and Articouple in service on this continent, but nowadays they are not frequently chosen for new construction. An exception is a new 84-foot shallow-draft tug combined with a 250-foot barge currently being built at a Louisiana shipyard for Brice Building Co., of Fairbanks, Alaska. This small inshore vessel with triple propellers is being fitted with an Articouple connection system for river operations in Alaska. The Articouple system, which can be deck-mounted, uses a pair of hydraulically operated rams with an adjustable-tooth engagement with the barge notch, possibly combined with friction pads on the sides of the tug.
Meanwhile, Intercon has been keeping its manufacturing plant busy with construction of new connection systems for big companies like Crowley Maritime, Bouchard Transportation, Moran Towing, U.S. Shipping, Vane Bros., and others.
Samuel de Champlain and its barge Innovation were fitted with a Bludworth connection system, which employs a horizontal connecting pin built into the tug bow. [Courtesy Lafarge North America]
McKeil has new look with tractors on the St. Lawrence
Canada’s McKeil Marine is becoming more aggressive on the St. Lawrence River and on Lake Ontario, conceivably posing a threat to Quebec-based Groupe Ocean in the busy port of Montreal and at other ports in the region.
Groupe Ocean, with an increasingly modern fleet of tractor-style tugs, has enjoyed a near-monopoly in ship-docking work at Montreal, a gateway port situated about 1,000 miles from the ocean. But McKeil Marine, based near Toronto on Lake Ontario, has established a base in Montreal with a pair of 3,500-hp tractor tugs recently acquired from SMIT Harbor Towage.
Montreal, with 18 containership berths, handled about 1.2 million TEUs in 2006, up more than 3 percent from the prior year, according to the Port of Montreal. Container traffic has been growing at an average rate of about 5 percent over the past decade. About half the containers handled at Montreal are being shipped to or from the United States, according to port reports. Montreal recorded more than 2,000 ship calls in 2005.
McKeil, a 50-year-old, family-owned company, recently acquired Smit Aruba and Smit Bonaire, both with forward-mounted azimuthing z-drives. The two 94-foot tugs are Damen 2810 ASD designs rated at 40 tons bollard pull with firefighting capability, according to shipping records. Including these two, there are fewer than a dozen tugs with forward-mounted twin z-drives operating in North American Ports.
McKeil has refurbished and re-flagged the tugs, renaming them Nicole M and Daniel M, respectively. They may well be assigned to the company’s growing book of ship docking work in Montreal, however, their use within the McKeil system remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Groupe Ocean, already with three z-drive tractors to its name, has two more 5,000-hp tractor-style tugs under construction at Irving’s East Isle Shipyard on Prince Edward Island. Two of the company’s three tractors are based at Montreal, while the third and newest is based in Quebec City.
McKeil and Groupe Ocean also compete for ship-docking work — as well as for general commercial towing services — at the Port of Sorel, located on the St. Lawrence roughly halfway between Montreal and Quebec; and at Lake Ontario ports such as Hamilton, Toronto and Oshawa.
In other news from McKeil Marine, the company recently converted its 5,750-hp tug Wilf Seymour to its own proprietary version of the Bludworth coupler system, along with the 400-foot barge Alouette Spirit. The newly upgraded pair represents the second conversion of a tug-barge unit to an articulated connection system since McKeil acquired rights to a Canadian style of the Bludworth system several years ago.
Crowley charters two tractors for service in San Francisco
Crowley Maritime has increased its presence in San Francisco with the purchase of the tugboat business previously operated by SeaRiver Maritime and with the related charter of two tractor tugs operated by that business.
Crowley, which is based in Seattle, has a long history in San Francisco, where the company was founded. It expanded its fleet in late January by chartering the 4,300-hp tug Mare Island, which had been under charter from Bay Delta Maritime, and chartering the 6,800-hp tug Angel Island, which had been under charter from Seabulk Towing. As part of the arrangement, SeaRiver returned the tugs to their owners, which, in turn, rechartered them to Crowley.
The two tugs, both with stern-mounted azimuthing z-drives, have since been renamed Goliath and Resolute. As of early this year, Crowley had one other tug based in San Francisco, the 4,400-hp, z-drive tractor Tioga. A 5,000-hp conventional tug, Sea Robin, which had been stationed there, has since been reassigned to the Seattle area.
SeaRiver had used its two chartered tugs in San Francisco to provide ship-assist services for its own tankers and for a small group of third-party customers.
Crowley’s expansion of its tractor tug business on the bay follows the company’s reentry into the area in 2004 and the subsequent relocation of its Oakland terminal from 10th Avenue to Berth 9 in 2006.
Three other leading tug companies in San Francisco — Foss, AmNav and BayDelta — each operate two tractors with some conventional tugs. Additional tugs are under construction, however, with the next deliveries expected in early summer.
Crowley’s newly chartered tug Resolute, ex-Angel Island, is also the former Kinsman Eagle built in 1996 by the former Bay Transportation of Tampa and now belonging to Seabulk Towing of Florida. The 110-foot tug is powered by Wärtsilä diesels with Aquamaster z-drives. The other chartered tug, Goliath, ex-Mare Island, is the former Delta Linda, belonging to BayDelta Maritime. Built by the former Marco Shipyard, it is also a large tug by today’s standards, at 105 feet in length, with Caterpillar power and Aquamaster z-drives.