Green & White Tug Fleet Keeps Growing

Bring your boat into Delaware Bay, even an 1,100-foot long crude oil tanker, and there’s a good chance that there will be little green and white tugboats of Wilmington Tug Inc. waiting to assist you into your berth.

Madeline, the newest z-drive tractor tug for Wilmington Tug Inc., is readied for delivery at the Gladding-Hearn shipyard in Somerset, Mass. She is the first new tug built by that shipyard in more than a decade. The 4,800-hp ASD tractor reported for work on the Delaware River in late April. (Photos: Brian Gauvin)

In their own realm, the tugs are not really so little. But snugged up under the bows of an 1,100-foot tanker they appear to be ridiculously tiny.

When these huge tankers glide slowly up the Delaware River from the open sea, a good portion of them anticipate a rendezvous with those tugs from Wilmington Tug. This is the company that provides tugboat services to more than 50 percent of incoming crude-oil tankers and about 33 percent of all ships. With six z-drive tractor tugs on the river, Wilmington Tug earns a generous share of ship-assist business, especially when it comes to escorting and giving a strategic nudge to tankers carrying as much as 2 million barrels of crude oil — about 84 million gallons of the stuff, mostly coming to U.S. East Coast refineries from sources in west Africa, Venezuela, the Middle East or the North Sea. On the Delaware, in fact, inbound crude-oil tankers are headed for any of the seven refineries on the river.

These tankers, and most others like them, are huge by any standards. Even without their liquid cargo, ships like Stena Vision would weigh more than 300,000 tons if you could pick them up and weigh them. Their loaded drafts are about 55 feet, which means that they must first unload part of their cargo into barges in Delaware Bay before heading upriver to their final destination.

Stena Vision and Stena Victory are typically joined by three Wilmington tugs about 20 miles downriver from the huge Sunoco refinery near Philadelphia’s Fort Mifflin area. For docking maneuvers, a fourth of these z-drive tugs is on hand to push and pull wherever they are assigned by the tug company’s docking pilot. When it comes time to sail the same ship, partially loaded with ballast water instead of oil, three tugs do the job and follow the ship down through the Delaware Memorial Bridge, as required by Sunoco for VLCCs.

Peter Duclos, co-president of the family-operated Gladding-Hearn shipyard, as he supervised final development of Madeline. Gladding-Hearn and the Duclos family have a long history of building boats for Wilmington Tugs.  (Photo: Brian Gauvin)

Wilmington Tug has become so adept at providing ship-assist service to arriving and departing tankers that more than half of the company’s annual revenue comes from its work with tankers.

There is a chance that the company’s percentage of tanker business will increase further now that its newest tractor-style tug, Madeline, has appeared on the scene. Despite the threat of economic recession, and despite alarmingly high prices, America’s hunger for oil products is not likely to diminish in the long run, which means that refineries like those on the Delaware, and elsewhere on America’s coasts, may continue to need all the crude oil they can get.

As it is, an estimated one million barrels of oil and chemicals transit the river to those six refineries and several chemical plants every day, making the Port of Philadelphia the second or third busiest petroleum-chemical port in the nation, according to local port authorities. In a typical year more than 850 inbound tankers pass Cape Henlopen at the mouth of the Delaware. In total, more than 3,000 ship arrivals are reported each year throughout the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware region. It is commonly reported that 80 percent of oil and gas destined for the U.S. Northeast is processed in this same region, along with almost all the tropical fruit destined for the region. This Philadelphia region is described as the largest North American port for steel, paper, and meat imports as well as being the largest importer of cocoa beans and fruit on the East Coast.

So it should be no surprise that starting this summer, Madeline and two other Wilmington tractors will be permanently based at the company’s northern dock facility in Philadelphia, while the rest of the fleet keeps station at Wilmington, about 20 miles to the south. These three tractors, Madeline, Sonie and Capt. Harry, are actually the three most powerful ship-assist tugs on the Delaware.

The green and white tugs of Wilmington Tugs Inc. are dwarfed by the 1,100-foot hull of the tanker Stena Vision. The new tug Madeline, not shown here, is the sixth z-drive tug to join the Wilmington fleet.

“This way, we can focus on the core area of 30 miles of river that includes locations for all the refineries,” said company vice president Chris Rowland. “This way our tugs are never more than 10 miles away from any one of those refineries.”

Wilmington’s competitors, Moran Towing and McAllister Towing, each typically keep one or two z-drive tractors on the river along with conventional tugs.

Wilmington’s newest tractor tug, Madeline, is an 80-foot version of the Ramparts 2500 design by Robert Allan Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia. The tug is a near sister ship to the tug Sonie, introduced by Wilmington in 2006. Built by the Gladding-Hearn shipyard in Somerset, Mass., the tug is designed to have 4,800 hp from a pair of MTU 16V4000M60 diesels, each rated at 2,360 hp at 1,800 rpm. With Rolls-Royce z-drives, the tug is expected to deliver 60 tons of bollard pull, according to the Robert Allan firm.

One of the few changes between Madeline and Sonie, according to Rowland, is the color of some inside sections of the pilothouse.

“The inside color is now gray,” said Rowland. “We got that direct from Robert Allan who visited the Sonie during the past year. Right away he said we should have gray color between the window panels because that tends to make the individual windows disappear, giving crewmembers more of a panoramic type of view during the day. If you chose a darker color, rather than white, he said, it makes the windows all blend together.”

Another change with the new tug is the introduction of the Furuno NavNet system incorporating integrated presentations of radar, navigation chart and AIS data.

“We’re pretty much moving towards an almost all Furuno package,” said Rowland.

Other essential features of the new tug include John Deere auxiliary power generators, Viking fendering, and a Markey electric hawser winch on the bow.

What’s really different about the Madeline, however, is the choice of shipyard. With the Washburn & Doughty shipyard in Maine booked solid with newbuilds for Moran, Wilmington chose to go back to its roots with Gladding-Hearn. This family-operated shipyard built the first five Wilmington tugs, but more than a decade ago diverted its efforts into construction of aluminum ferries and pilot boats. Madeline is the first tugboat built by Gladding-Hearn in more than 15 years is and probably the first steel vessel built in just as long. The new tug was completed for a price approaching $6 million, said Rowland.

“We had a very pleasant experience building at Gladding-Hearn,” said Rowland. “We found that they plan out every step very effectively. They use computers a lot and model everything in advance so that you can give them a lot of feedback before things are actually welded into place. We were also pleased that the scheduling was arranged so that there is not a fight for real estate among the various tradesmen down in the engine room. They really make the effort to give you the boat that you want, not just to get it out of the shipyard.”

Bill Martin, Wilmington’s port engineer who visited the shipyard almost weekly throughout the building process, also indicated that he was impressed by the organized way in which the tug was built. Of course it helped, he said, that there was plenty of time to get things organized while waiting for the Rolls-Royce z-drive units to arrive from Europe.

“The timing of the z-drives is what really drove our construction schedule,” said Martin. “They held off on starting at first, and then went slowly, taking their time, until about the middle of 2007. Then it was one year of concentrated effort on the boat before she was delivered this past April. So, if you include the waiting time, it was about a year and a half overall.”

Madeline is the sixth z-drive tug to join the Wilmington fleet. The company also still operates a pair of small conventional tugs that were among the original boats to the company’s name. Wilmington Tug was founded in 1965 by Capt. Harry Rowland Sr., who died in 2000. Today his son, Hick Rowland Jr., heads the company while his grandson, Chris Rowland, plays an increasing role in the company management. Like his father, Hick Rowland, 67, plays an active role as a Delaware River docking pilot, docking or undocking more than 400 ships in a typical year.

The company has steadily been upgrading its fleet over the past decade. In 2001 it took delivery of the 4,100-hp Capt. Harry. In 2005 the company repowered its tug Tina with new engines and z-drives. In 2006 it took delivery of Sonie. In 2007 it re-powered the tug Sally with new engines and z-drives. And most recently, in 2008, Wilmington has introduced it latest tug — Madeline — named for Chris Rowland’s oldest daughter who is the great granddaughter of the company founder.

By Professional Mariner Staff