LNG work brings new tractor tugs to Texas seaports: Thor, Suderman & Young

The first of a new class of tractor tugs for ship-docking and escort service along the Texas coast was delivered from a Louisiana shipyard in early summer.

The newest and most powerful ship-assist tug in Texas is the 6,300-hp z-drive tug Thor, owned and operated by Suderman & Young of Houston. The tug was designed as the first of the Z-Tech 7500 series by Robert Allan Ltd. of Vancouver, B.C. It was built by Main Iron Works, Houma, La. A sister vessel named Wesley A. is expected to be delivered to another Texas company, Bay-Houston Towing, by the same shipyard later this year.

Both of these 98-foot tugs are designed to be capable of 75 tons bollard pull, forward or astern, which makes them among the most powerful new U.S. tractor tugs built in the past year or two. It is no surprise that both tugs are committed to working at the new LNG receiving terminal at Freeport, Texas, when that facility opens in early 2008. The tugs are powered by 16-cylinder versions of Caterpillar 3500 HD series engines, generating 3,150 hp at 1,800 rpm. Propulsion power comes from Schottel Model 1520 z-drive units with 106-inch stainless propellers.

The two Texas companies, along with Moran Towing Corp., have jointly contracted with ConocoPhillips Co. to provide harbor tug services for LNG vessels calling at the Freeport terminal. Moran, as of this spring, was planning to assign its 92-foot, 5,100-hp tractor Lynne Moran to Freeport as part of the three-company joint venture. All three vessels will be operated by G & H Towing of Galveston, Texas.

The working ends of Schottel z-drive units with 106-inch propellers in nozzles. [Brian Gauvin photos]

Business is booming at the port of Houston, and Texas is the site of the first newly constructed LNG receiving terminal built in the United States in at least two decades. In addition to the Freeport terminal, two others are under construction near the mouth of the Sabine River, while others are being planned, thus far without permits, for Corpus Christi and Point Comfort on San Antonio Bay. All these sites are well within the operating territory of both Suderman & Young and Bay-Houston — the two primary ship-docking companies in the Houston area.

Suderman & Young has two 4,650-hp z-drive tugs on charter from McAllister Towing — Janet McAllister, currently based at Freeport, and Shannon McAllister, currently based near Houston. There is plenty of business to warrant extending the charters of these tugs, which expire in late 2008, according to Lamar Doyle, a vice president with the company. “Business in the port has picked up extensively, so we are going to be in need of those boats here just to keep up with the traffic,” said Doyle.

Between 6,500 and 7,000 ships call at Houston in a typical year, according to port officials. That makes Houston one of the busiest ports in the nation, second perhaps only to the combined ports off Los Angeles/ Long Beach. The largest categories of arriving ships are refined oil and chemical tankers, crude oil tankers, container vessels and then break bulk and bulk freighters.

The port’s various terminals handled 40.6 million total tons of cargo in 2006, up sharply from 35 million tons in the prior year, according to the Port of Houston Authority. Container volume was 1.6 million units in 2006, up slightly from 2005. Beginning in January the port celebrated the opening of the first phase of the new Bayport Container Terminal. Eventually, as warranted by traffic, this facility could accommodate six or seven ships with a 375-acre container terminal. In addition, the 50-mile Houston Ship Channel has recently been widened and deepened, so a succession of ever-larger ships has been calling at the port in the past year.

“We are building tugs to keep up with the anticipated growth in the port’s business,” said Doyle.

At present the company has two additional 6,300-hp tractor tugs under construction at Orange Shipyard, Orange, Texas. While these are near sisters to the new tug Thor, with FiFi-1 firefighting, they are designed to be able to exert a slightly higher 80 tons of bollard pull.

“As of now, we are pretty much focused on getting Thor into full operation, learning as much as we can about the boat and getting our crews trained,” said Doyle. “She’s different from our other tractors if only because of the increased size and horsepower.”

Thor is a Robert Allan designed tug with Caterpillar main engines, Schottel z-drives and a Markey DYSF-52 forward hawser winch, shown above. When delivered, the winch was wrapped with 400 feet of Amsteel Blue braided ship-assist line. [Brian Gauvin photos]

In addition to Thor, Suderman & Young operates the 4,300-hp z-drive tractor Jess Newton, also built at Main Iron Works, and the two chartered McAllister tractors. In total the company operates more than two dozen tugs of various types in service over a broad area from Corpus Christi to the Sabine River.

Suderman & Young is a family-operated company, owned by members of the Rayzor family of Texas.

The company is no stranger to operations in Freeport, site of the new LNG terminal. Suderman & Young has two tugs already based there, including a McAllister tractor and a conventional tug. The Freeport LNG terminal is located on Quintana Island midway between the Port of Freeport and the open ocean. It is several miles up a deep-water channel from the Gulf, about 70 miles south of Galveston. The terminal itself is situated adjacent to the intersection of the Freeport Ship Channel and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. LNG tankers up to 250,000 cubic meters are expected to eventually dock at the terminal. As construction continues, the terminal is expected to include two marine berthing docks and three gas storage tanks by 2009.

Suderman & Young’s new tug Thor is outfitted with a Markey ship-assist hawser winch on its bow, but with nothing on the stern but a set of H-bitts. The company reports it is keeping its options open for possible towing gear or another hawser winch on the stern. The tug was designed and built to meet FiFi-1 firefighting standards, as is standard for most applications involving LNG terminals.

By Professional Mariner Staff