First ATB for Harley Marine


Harley Marine Services has put into service its first ATB.

The 116-foot tug Emery Zidell and its 80,000-barrel oil barge, Dr. Robert J. Beall, went into service in December. The tug and its barge are linked by an Articouple FRC coupling system. 

Harley Marine Services, which is based in Seattle, was founded in 1987 by Harley Franco and began operations with a leased tug and barge under the name Olympic Tug & Barge. Since then the company has greatly expanded to become a full-service towing company with operations that include Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; the Gulf Coast; New York; and Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The company’s fleet numbers 47 tugs and 52 barges.

Emery Zidell was built at the Conrad Shipyard in Morgan City, La. Conrad has two more ATBs on order from Harley: Jake Shearer, due for delivery at the end of July; and Barry Silverton, due in October, according to Gregg Nelsen, Harley Marine’s vice president/director of engineering. 

When asked why Harley Marine is embracing ATBs, Nelsen replied, “Because of customer demand. Our customers are getting away from towed barges.”

One advantage of ATBs over towed barges is that they are safer, according to Nelsen, because they do not depend on tow wires. A broken tow wire could result in the grounding of the barge and an oil spill. 

The pilothouse of Jake Shearer. It is 50 feet above the machine spaces, making it particularly quiet.

ATBs are also capable of operating in rougher seas than a tug towing a barge, Nelsen said. That translates into fewer delays and better customer service. 

The ATBs will also be faster than a tug towing a barge, “by as much as a knot and a half,” he said. That significant speed advantage will also contribute to more timely delivery of the customers’ cargoes. 

One of the key elements in the design is the Articouple pin system linking the tug and the barge. The Articouple system designed by Taisei Engineering, which is based in Tokyo, has been installed in large numbers of vessels built in Asia and Europe. But only in recent years has it begun to appear on vessels built in North America.

“Just really in the last five years have they started to penetrate the market over here,” said Richard Bludworth, chief executive of Houston-based Bludworth Marine, Taisei Articouple ATB’s sales and service representative in the United States. 

He said there are about eight to 10 vessels with the Articouple system in North America, but by the end of next year that number may double. Taisei and its vendors in Japan, along with Bludworth Marine in the United States, manufacture the various components of the coupling system.

One aspect of the Articouple design that appealed to Harley Marine was that it allows a tug to stay connected to its barge during lightering. That’s because the system easily adjusts to the changing draft of the barge as it discharges or takes on cargo. 

The H-bitt and Markey capstan on the stern of Jake Shearer, under construction at Conrad Industries. The 116-foot tug will have a beam of 36 feet and a loaded draft of 14 feet.

“While the barge is loading and discharging, the (power) unit can stay in the notch comfortably and safely,” Bludworth said. Harley Marine, he continued, has some operations that involve “discharging in open bay areas where there are swells.”

He described the Articouple system as “a very compact, robust, well-proven ATB system.” 

Because it is so compact, it saves both weight and space on the vessel, he said.

The tug will be powered by two GE L250 Tier 3 diesel engines producing 2,246 bhp each at 1,000 rpm through Reintjes WAF 1563 reduction gears turning four-blade stainless steel propellers.

The 116-foot tug will have a beam of 36 feet and a loaded draft of 14 feet. The tug will use environmentally friendly oil and greases, according to Nelsen.

Designed by Entech Designs LLC of Houma, La., the tug is similar to the Fin class of 116-foot ATBs Entech designed for Penn Maritime about five years ago. Very little tweaking was required to adapt that earlier design for the Harley Marine vessels, according to Frank Basile, Entech’s president. The Penn Maritime boats employed JAK coupling systems, so some significant re-engineering of the bows of the Harley Marine vessels was required so they could incorporate the Articouple system. “It is in the coupling system where the hull shape changes,” Basile explained. 

The H-bitt and staple on the bow. Some significant re-engineering of the bows of the Harley Marine ATBs has been required because of the change from JAK couplings to the Articouple system.

Another difference is that the Penn Maritime vessels’ props were in nozzles, while the Harley Marine boats have open wheels. 

As a safeguard against loss of fuel from a grounding or collision, the tug has a double bottom. Entech’s design exploits that double bottom to prevent spills when the tug is taking on fuel.

The fuel oil tanks have a single vent that feeds into overflow tanks within the double bottom. The fuel system also has a monitoring system that alerts the crew when the fuel tanks are approaching full. If the crew ignores the alarm, there is an automatic shutoff device that is activated. But even if the automatic shutoff failed to operate, the fuel would flow to the overflow tank in the double bottom, rather than escaping into the environment. “If everything fails, you still don’t have a spill,” Basile said. 

“This is a very practical way of doing it,” he said, while acknowledging, “There’s no such thing as fail-safe. You have human error on boats.”

Basile expects the Harley Marine ATBs to be able to make about 10.5 knots in average seas. Some larger ATBs can make as much as 12.5 knots. That compares with about 8 knots for a conventional tug towing a barge, Basile said. 

An Articouple pin on Jake Shearer. Designed by Taisei  Engineering in Tokyo, the pins allow a tug to stay connected to its barge during lightering. The system adjusts to the changing draft of the barge.

“Any ATB gives you more speed than towing,” Basile said, because the tug and barge form one integral unit. 

The design includes various elements to keep noise and vibration to a minimum. To spare people in the galley area sudden bursts of noise emanating through an open door to the engine room, the boat employs a kind of airlock. Two doors separate the engine room and the galley area and only one of the two doors can be open at any time.

All the engine room surfaces abutting the habitable areas are covered with Mascoat, a product that reduces transmission of noise and vibration. The pilothouse, which is 50 feet above the machine spaces, is particularly quiet. “Up in the pilothouse, you don’t hear any noise. It’s like being in a closet,” Basile said. 

There is also a hawser kept along one side of the barge. If the sea state becomes so severe that the tug cannot comfortably stay in the notch, the hawser is set up so the tug can quickly move out of the notch and switch to the towing mode. Basile said that executing such a maneuver would be very rare and might never happen within the lifespan of the ATB, but the hawser is in place just in case. 

The ATB, which is based in Seattle, will operate along the U.S. West Coast. The tug is named after the founder of Zidell Marine Corp., which built the ATB’s 422-foot double-hull barge. Emery Zidell was also a good friend of Harley Franco and both have been strong supporters of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The barge, Dr. Robert Beall, is named after another leading figure in efforts to find a cure for cystic fibrosis, Dr. Beall, the president and chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Jake Shearer has two GE L250 six-cylinder mains and Reintjes WAF 1563 reduction gears. The Tier 3 diesels produce 2,246 bhp each at 1,000 rpm.

In addition to being the first ATB ordered by Harley Marine Services, Emery Zidell is also the first ATB built by Conrad. 

“We worked on many of these in our repair facility, but I think this is probably the first we have done,” said Gary B. Lipely, Conrad’s director of marketing and sales. “There’s a large number of ATBs out there pending. We hope to snag some of those down the road.”

He hopes that the quality of work exhibited by Emery Zidell and its sisters will convince others of Conrad’s capabilities. He observed that one of the moments of truth came when the tug was matched up with the barge. 

“It was interesting to see if the barge and the tug would fit together,” he observed, given that the tug and barge were built by different yards and designed by different architects. In the end, the two vessels made “a perfect fit,” he said.

An article about Emery Zidell in the February 2014 edition of Soundings, a Harley Marine internal publication, summarized the benefits of the new vessels: “The ATB will allow Harley Marine to provide better coastal petroleum transportation services by expediting delivery and will provide better reliability in adverse weather conditions.”

The ATBs will also have a favorable effect on emissions. The new ATB “will allow Harley Marine to utilize less fuel on coastal deliveries, reducing the company’s overall carbon footprint,” the article said. “The ATB will be built with the most technically and environmentally friendly equipment available so that Harley Marine can continue to provide a safe, responsible, reliable and efficient service to its customers.”

By Professional Mariner Staff