Plenty of new tugs still in the building stage

The hull of a z-drive tractor tug takes shape while in plating stage at Main Iron Works, Houma, La. The shipyard has been working hard to keep up with a backlog of orders for new tugs for the past two years. (Gregory Walsh)

Next year’s issue of American Tugboat Review might have to be considerably larger because there are so many new tugs making their debut between now and this time in 2008.

Of course there are numerous publishing considerations that determine the ultimate size of a magazine in pages, but just by the number of new tugboats, the next issue could be jam-packed. Perhaps to save space we’ll group them together by colors: the red ones, the white ones, etc. Or maybe by geographic sector: East Coast, Gulf Coast, West Coast. More likely, if there is grouping to do, it would be by design, since there are actually about equal numbers of ship-assist tugs, coastwise towing vessels and inland towboats.

We count about 27 new saltwater tugs coming out in the next year, and that does not include the inland towboats. There are probably more than 50 of those. Since it takes at least a year to plan and build a new tug, there are not likely to be any latecomers to the list. If a proposed tugboat does not have its reserved spot at a shipyard by now, chances are it won’t be christened within the next year. It is well documented that shipyard slots are hard to come by this year, as they were last year when building conditions were especially stressed by the effects of the combined hurricanes of 2005 on the Gulf Coast labor market. A good example of labor-related shipyard stress comes from the two-year efforts of Main Iron Works, Houma, La., to produce the handful of z-drive tractor tugs that it had contracted to build during easier times.

It should come as no surprise that all of the tugs under construction for future ship-assist work around the nation are z-drive, tractor-style tugs. No one builds a conventional twin-screw tug for ship-assist work anymore, although there are plenty of these reliable workhorses still churning away at all of our nation’s ports. Most of the z-drive tugs currently under construction are already listed in the table of North American tractor tugs found in this issue. These new ones range from 4,000 to slightly more than 6,000 horsepower, the most powerful being those scheduled or hoping for work at LNG terminals currently under construction.

Look for these companies to introduce new z-drive tractor tugs in the next 12 months (or maybe longer, depending on how the pace of construction goes):

BayDelta Maritime, San Francisco

Bay-Houston Towing, Houston, Texas

Bay Minette Ship Docking, Kitimat, B.C., Canada

Bisso Towing, New Orleans

E.N. Bisso & Sons, New Orleans

Colle Towing, Pascagoula, Miss.

Edison Chouest, Galliano, La.

Foss Martitime, Seattle, Wash.

Great Lakes Towing, Cleveland, Ohio

Harbor Docking, Lake Charles, La.

McAllister Towing, New York City

Moran Towing, New Canaan, Conn.

Seabulk Towing, Port Everglades, Fla.

Signet Maritime, Corpus Christi, Texas

Suderman & Young, Houston, Texas

Wilmington Tug, Wilmington, Del.

Half of these companies, e.g. BayDelta, Bay-Houston, Foss, McAllister, Moran, Seabulk, Suderman & Young and Wilmington, also have new tugs featured in the current 2006 edition of American Tugboat Review.

(Gregory Walsh)

Coastwise towing vessels are not so easy to categorize because they come in different sizes, shapes and towing configurations. All are intended to push or tow barges on salt water as efficiently as possible for hundreds or thousands of miles — that is their one common denominator.

It cannot even be reported that they all have similar stern gear, tried and proven over the years for offshore towing, since two of these new tugs have z-drive propulsion, and not all of them have fixed nozzles around the props. Not all of them have towing winches either, since most of the ones with so-called articulated coupler systems are designed almost exclusively for pushing and not towing.

Look for these companies to introduce new coastwise towing vessels in the next 12 months (or maybe longer, depending on how the pace of construction goes):

Crowley Maritime

Dann Marine Towing

Guidry Brothers

Express Marine

Moran Towing

Penn Maritime

U.S. Shipping

OSG (Maritrans)

Sause Bros.

U.S. Shipping

Vane Brothers

Western Towboat

Final adjustments being made to nozzles on a triple-screw towboat under construction on the Gulf Coast. (Gregory Walsh)

Not included here are the dozens of small or low-powered tugs and tug-like workboats built in backwater shipyards that tend to escape the attention of national media. Some of these tugs, like the 85-foot, triple-screw tug just delivered from Lockport Fabrication in Louisiana for L.A. Carriers, or the 84-footer just delivered to Brice Construction of Alaska by Chiasson Welding Service of Louisiana, are part of the bread and butter of the American tugboat industry, particularly on the Gulf Coast.

Then there are inland towboats with push knees for handling barges. It is estimated that there are at least 2,000 active inland towboats operating in the waterways of America. In any given year there might be 30 to 60 towboats under construction, mostly on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Most of these are considerably less than 3,000 horsepower. Many inland towboats rarely, if ever, work in salt water, and thus may have life expectancies as long as 50 years. Almost all of them are actively engaged in pushing barges of many different types.

Construction of a full-size, line-haul boat — perhaps 150 feet or more in length with 6,000 or more horsepower — is a relatively rare event these days. However, an exception to this can be found at Quality Shipyard, Houma, La., where work is underway on the first of 10 new 166-foot, 6,000-hp towboats being built for AEP River Operations, a unit of American Electric Power.

These new towboats will be used to deliver coal to any of AEP’s nine power plants on the Ohio River, according to AEP. These vessels will be powered by 12 cylinder 710G&C-T2 diesel engines with Lufkin reduction gears and 108-inch propellers. The first is expected to be delivered at the end of this year.

By Professional Mariner Staff