New Tug Brings Big News to Remote Port of Prince Rupert, B.C.


The Port of Prince Rupert has long boasted of being several hundred miles closer, via the Great Circle Route, to the principle Asian ports than other North American ports. This rugged and remote seaport, located just above the 54th parallel of latitude is blessed with geographic advantages. Prince Rupert is said to be the deepest ice-free natural harbor on the continent, and it is linked to a vast railway network, as well as being the western terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway. It also has easy access to the Pacific Ocean, being situated just inside the Dixon Entrance to the famed Inside Passage on the northern British Columbia coast.

Commercial growth of the seaport has been gradual, with most commerce traditionally related to fishing. The advent of the railway in 1910 gained some thru-freight for the port, and the highway link to the rest of Canada was completed during World War II. In the early 1980s, a coal and grain terminal opened, to be followed by the development of a cruise ship pier in 2004 and a container facility in 2006.

Today’s growth is anything but slow. While cargo volume declined in most U.S. West Coast ports in 2008, the opposite was true at the Port of Prince Rupert, located about 500 miles north of Vancouver. Total volume for 2008 was 182,000 TEUs with 78 container vessel calls, according to the local port authority. As growth is expected to continue, the port in 2010 will begin an expansion that is anticipated to boost annual box capacity to 1.5 million TEUs.

The more regular arrival of deep-sea ships at Prince Rupert has created an opportunity for dedicated ship docking tugs. It was to meet this demand that Minette Bay Marine Services launched a new business. Previously serving as operators of a 90-passenger ferry since 1978, the company formed a new division, Minette Bay Ship Docking, and soon located a pair of vessels that would become its first tugboats. These unlikely vessels were surplus powered barge-like craft designed to move vessels in and out of locks in eastern Canada. The virtually-new vessels had Alco diesels and a z-drive propulsion unit located at either end. Bringing them to the west coast by truck, the company had a new hull form and wheelhouse built around them, and put them to work with the same engines turning fore and aft azimuthing drive units. These vessels were called TP 1 and TP 2. The names TP stood for ‘Test Platform,’ which was the designation on the two original modules that formed the core of the company’s first two tugs and lasted for many years.

All that has changed, however, as the port has continued growing and opportunities for big ship-capable tugboats have become even better. And no sooner did Minette Bay Ship Docking accept delivery of a totally new azimuthing stern drive (ASD) tractor tug costing roughly $10 million this past March, than the company was acquired by the Dutch company, SMIT International.

SMIT, one of the world’s largest tug companies, has an international fleet of more than 150 vessels including roughly 15 already operating on Canada’s west coast. The acquisition is still subject to approval of authorities under the Investment Canada Act.

New tug TP 3 may soon belong to SMIT International if the acquisition of Minette Bay Ship Docking is approved by Canadian authorities.<

The biggest drawing card in the acquisition of Minette Bay Ship Docking may have been the 100-foot, 6,772-hp, ASD tug named TP 3, as if it was the third test platform in the company’s history.

Designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants, TP 3 is very similar to the ASD tugs Valor and Vigilant built for Baydelta Maritime of San Francisco and since leased to Crowley Maritime. Another in that same series, more recently completed, is the Baydelta tug Delta Billie in San Francisco (see page 52) However TP 3 is certified by Transport Canada to Class X Tug Canadian load line. Canadian regulations require that accommodations be above the water line, so the bunkrooms were adjusted accordingly. The Prince Rupert tug has the same engines as the Baydelta boats, but the drives are Niigata ZP-41 ASDs with Niigata reduction gears. The gears incorporate a slipping clutch that allows the large firefighting pumps to be operated off the main engine without compromising the tug’s maneuverability.

It may be the third tug to share the TP name, but this newest tug bears little resemblance to its earlier namesake sister vessels.

Capt. Doug Mullin has been with Minette Bay since 1984, so he has docked a lot of ships with the first two boats. “The biggest thing is the additional power,†he said. “When we have to get somewhere quickly we can make 14.5 knots. But these Tier 2 engines with the good insulation in the boat are so quiet that you have to look at the tach when you hit the throttles, because you just don’t hear the engines.â€

The Port of Prince Rupert has huge tides and large winds. Speaking in early March, Mullin explained that just that morning they were required by the coal terminal to wait until the 45-knot winds went down before docking a ship. But the concern was for the dock, not the tug’s ability to handle the ship. Working ships in tide and wind can keep an operator plenty busy and Mullin said he likes the tug’s Markey DEPC-52 hawser winch. “It is the first time that I have used a winch with render and recovery so I don’t have to worry about slack line. It is awesome,†he said. 

Deck equipment includes Markey hawser winch, JonRie InterTech towing winch and Schuyler Rubber fendering.

The considerable firefighting capabilities equip the tug to work LNG ships in the event that a much-discussed terminal is developed on British Columbia’s northern coast. Prince Rupert itself has been on a steady growth curve with coal and grain bulk cargos and now two containership calls per week. With this tug, as with their two earlier vessels, Minette Bay Ship Docking has demonstrated a penchant for long term planning and an ability to adapt to growth in a small port. It’s no wonder the company attracted the attention of a big player like SMIT.

One thing seems likely, however, sooner or later the people at SMIT are likely to give this tug a new name. •

By Professional Mariner Staff