Buffalo Marine expands Texas bunkering fleet

Photos by Brian Gauvin.

Buffalo Marine Services, Houston, Texas, is a specialist in bunkering vessels on the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Their fleet of barges and towboats has increased substantially over the past two years keeping in step with their growing business. The company is so committed to service that they refer to themselves as the “Bunkering Butler” for their operating region.

“Most of our business is delivering intermediate fuel oil to vessels in port,” said Tom Marian, general counsel and spokesperson for the company. “We have a blending barge that can mix lighter grades of oil with IFO 380, but that is not our main business,” Marian added.

“Our business mainstay is bunkering from Freeport, Texas, to Lake Charles, La. We do have some line-haul work all the way to the Mississippi River,” Marian added.

Operations for the company are centered on Buffalo Bayou near Houston, but they have purchased some land on the Old River that is currently being developed into a fleeting area.
Based on their new equipment purchases over the past couple of years, Buffalo is anticipating continuous growth in the bunkering business.

The company recently took delivery of the San Kennedy and will get the San Austin in July. All Buffalo Marine towboats are named after saints, so the first name of all the boats is San. The San Kennedy is the 12th towboat built for Buffalo Marine Services by the John Bludworth Shipyard in Corpus Christi, Texas.

San Kennedy crewmember Wade Thornton helps to keep things running smoothly in the tow-boat’s cummins-powered engine room.

Buffalo Marine’s blue and white towboats are a common sight on the Houston Ship Channel, as they push any number of the company’s 28 barges up and down the channel. In a typical month, the company might refuel as many as 275 ships, sometimes more. A typical bunkering barge can deliver up to 30,000 barrels of fuel.

The San Kennedy is one of the first vessels on the inland waterway to use the new Cummins QSK-19 engines that produce 660-hp each.

“The Cummins engines are EPA Tier-2 compliant so their fuel efficiency and emissions level are the best available,” Marian said. “These engines put out fewer horsepower than our boats equipped with a pair of Cummins KTA38-M1 engines but we can use them in the fleet interchangeably,” Marian said. The engines turn into Twin Disc gears, supplied by Stewart Supply, that spin Sound 68-by-48-inch propellers.

Cummins also supplied a pair of 40-kw generators for the vessels. There is a mechanical full follow-up steering system on board with two 4-by-30-inch cylinders supplied by Skipper Engineered Products Division of Donovan Marine.

Accommodations include six berths in three staterooms. Chase Cabinet Makers installed the galley and all other joinery work on the vessel. Capacities of the vessel include 21,000 gallons of fuel and 6,000 gallons of potable water.

Engine controls are by Glendinning, similar to those on other Buffalo Marine boats. Premium Electronics supplied the radar, radios, AIS and GPS.

On deck there is a pair of 40-ton Patterson deck winches and in the engine room are a pair of Quincy air compressors.

In 2007, Buffalo Marine services added a pair of 84-foot towboats, the San Blas and the San Luis. These vessel use Cummins KTA38-M1 engines each developing 1,000 hp and they include tankage for up to 38,000 gallons of fuel oil.

Buffalo Marine reports that it has also replaced 80 percent of its barge fleet with new double-hull barges, well ahead of the OPA’90 phase-out deadlines for each vessel. Continuing that program, the company will accept four new 30,000-barrel tank barges later this year from Trinity-Asheville, with delivery of all four expected in September.

Officers at Buffalo Marine describe their company as an innovator in bunker barges. They have installed meters on all tank barges and rigid calibration devices. The barge design calls for two pumps per barge as standard in order to transfer up to 600 metric tons per hour and build redundancy into discharge capability.

To insure that tankermen could easily prime systems, belowdeck pipelines were located as close to the bottom of the tanks as possible. This change also makes it easier to strip the tanks. Additionally, Buffalo’s barges are designed so that all deck fittings are run in a straightforward and common sense fashion to make it easier for crews to group valve configurations, view tank numbers and gauge tanks.

Environmental concerns are also critically important to Buffalo Marine Services, according to Marian. The company purchases only high-grade seals to reduce leakage on all pumps without compromising pump rates. They also invested in a rigorous home-testing program that went beyond industry standards to reduce the possibility of hose failures.

The company also instituted a simplified hose disconnect and connect procedure diagram that is shared with the receiving vessel to ensure nothing is spilled after bunkering. The company redesigned controls of the deck swing boom, replacing heavy manual winch handles, in an attempt to avoid injury should one lose control of the boom.

Because of the ever-increasing size of vessels requiring bunking in the Houston Ship Channel, all barges are equipped with 18-meter cargo booms and 12 meters of hose from the boom to the ship.

All barges designed in the last decade have been equipped with raised trunks from bow to stern to increase cargo capacity and allow more complete containment of any deck spills on the tank barge.

Fuel sampling is critical, as is accurate gauging. Samples of the fuel are taken at several points before during and after the bunkering process and barges are gauged before they take on fuel and again after the delivery made, added Marian.

Buffalo Marine was established in 1935 as a division of the J. S. Gissel & Company. It was reorganized by Tom Studdert in the 1960’s, and offered bunkering service only with two boats and four barges.

Today the company is undertaking the most vigorous expansion in its history with four towboats delivered over the past two years and six 30,000-barrel tank barges, including the four to be delivered this fall.

By Professional Mariner Staff