New Texas tractors assigned to LNG work

Bay-Houston Towing of Texas recently introduced its newest and most powerful tug, Wesley A, already busily engaged in providing ship-assist service to LNG tankers calling at Freeport, as well as general ship-docking work throughout the greater Houston region.

David Grey, mate, is a frequent operator of the new Bay-Houston tractor tug Wesley A, pictured above, assigned to general ship-assist work in the Houston area and to LNG work at the new gas importation terminal in Freeport. (Brian Gauvin photos)

There’s hardly a ship captain or pilot on the Houston Ship Channel who would not be pleased to have the 6,300-hp ASD tractor Wesley A pull up alongside a few minutes prior to docking. But, the way things are, she is not always available for general assignment. This newest tug, along with sister ship, Thor, operated by Suderman & Young Towing, is, for the time being, committed to supporting LNG tankers at Freeport, which first opened for business in April.

That’s where you can find the Wesley A much of the time these days — docking and undocking LNG tankers at Freeport, about 70 miles south of the Houston Ship Channel.

At Freeport these two are joined by another z-drive tractor, the 5,100-hp Lynne Moran, belonging to Moran Towing. The informal arrangement between these three partners, according to the companies involved, is that Lynne Moran will be permanently stationed at the Freeport LNG terminal, while Thor and Wesley A will be free to attend to other ship-assist assignments when not needed for LNG duties.

Except for their colors, Wesley A and Thor are virtually identical sister tugs while Lynne Moran is one of many similar tractors built for Moran in recent years by the Washburn & Doughty shipyard in Maine.

Moran and these two Texas companies have also recently signed a partnership agreement to provide LNG services for the new Sempra LNG facility in Cameron Parish, La., soon to open on the Calcasieu River.

The forward deck of the tug Wesley A is dominated by the Markey electric hawser winch loaded with AmSteel Blue softline produced by Samson Rope. The line passes through a triangular-shaped staple lined with stainless steel.

Wesley A and Thor are the first two Z-Tech 7500 tugs built in North America, created from the drawing boards of Canadian naval architect Robert Allan Ltd. The 98-foot tugs feature oversize skegs under the winch end of the hull, a full-view pilothouse mounted well aft from the winch end, a pair of high-horsepower Caterpillar main engines and Schottel z-drives. With something close to a double-ended configuration, they are designed to be able to operate in traditional towing mode using true tractor-tug mode and to operate in ship-assist mode using a reverse tractor-tug mode. The single Markey electric winch can be used for both modes of towing. When working on ship-assist assignments however, Wesley A operates with her winch end up against the ship while her strategically located pilothouse allows her to work right in under the flared bows of a modern container vessel.

The Freeport LNG terminal, which received its first tanker in mid-April, is described as among the first new land-based LNG facilities to open in North America in at least 20 years. Another nearby facility, a terminal operated by Cheniere LNG at Sabine Pass, received its first LNG tanker on April 11. At Freeport, the LNG tanker Excelsior docked on April 14.

The two Texas tug companies, along with Moran Towing, worked out a long-term contract in 2006 to provide ship-assist services at the $700 million terminal on Quintana Island near Freeport. When in full operation by the end of 2008, the facility is expected to be receiving up to about 150 ships a year, depending on business conditions. Capacity of the first phase of the Freeport project has been sold on a long-term basis to ConocoPhillips and the Dow Chemical Co.

Wesley A, built over a two-year span by Main Iron Works of Houma, La., is the 16th tug in the Bay-Houston fleet. With her power and propulsion package, including Caterpillar 3516C diesels, she has a bollard pull of 75 tons with a free-running speed of about 13 knots.

Wesley A is fully FiFi-1 compliant, with twin Caterpillar 3412 engines powering the fire pumps, each rated at 5,300 gpm. Electrical power is provided by two 125-kw John Deere generators. The winch on Wesley A is a Markey model DYSF-52 with automatic render-recovery and a custom tension meter. The winch will have a brake capacity of 500,000 pounds.

Engineer Roy Wick has charge of a new engine room featuring Cat 3516C main engines with Schottel z-drives. The FiFi-1 rated tug has a bollard pull of 75 tons. Chief engineer for the vessel is Mike Batten.

The two captains of Wesley A are Robyn Sarvis and Blake Morgan. Chief Engineer is Mike Batten, with Roy Wick as assistant engineer.

Wesley A will soon be joined by additional Z-Tech tugs. Z-Tech 7500s have been ordered by both Bay-Houston and Suderman & Young from Conrad’s Orange Shipyard in Orange, Texas, the first of those projected for completion this summer. The next such tug introduced by Bay-Houston will be named Lexie M and following that will come Hunter M in early 2009.

Bay-Houston Towing Co. traces its roots to Capt. W.D. Haden, who, in the 1880s, founded the companies that now make up Bay-Houston. Today, the company provides ship-docking services in the ports of Houston, Galveston, Texas City, Freeport, and Corpus Christi, Texas.

The tugs Wesley A, Lexie M and Hunter M are all named after members of the fifth generation of the Haden family.

Both Wesley A and Thor have a unique underwater configuration with a pair of so-called docking skegs between the main keel/skeg and the z-drives. The skegs, one on either side of the centerline, extend down to the same depth as the keel, thus allowing the vessel to be lifted out of the water and set down on any flat surface. The hull can be lifted by means of four permanent lifting eyes welded to the deck.

By Professional Mariner Staff