Seabulk fleet expands with LNG-capable tractor tugs: Energy Hercules/Energy Zeus

Seabulk Towing, no stranger to tractor tug technology, has been expanding its already considerable presence on the Gulf Coast with introduction of five new 5,000-hp tractor tugs for service in Port Arthur, Lake Charles and Tampa.

Seabulk, a unit of SEACOR Holdings since 2005, introduced the first few of the new tugs in early 2007 with others to follow later this year. The 96-foot azimuthing stern drive tugs have been built by Eastern Shipbuilding, Panama City, Fla. Their design is an offshoot of similar tugs built for McAllister Towing and designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle.

The first two tugs, Energy Hercules and Energy Zeus, with FiFi-1 firefighting capability, have been assigned to Lake Charles, La., where they are escorting and docking LNG tankers and other ships arriving there. Other new tugs include Buccaneer, slated for work in Port Arthur, Texas, and both Sabine and Gasparilla, slated for work in Tampa, Fla. These other three tugs also have full FiFi-1 firefighting capability and are available for additional LNG assignments as needed, according to Kenny Rogers, president of Seabulk Towing, based in Port Everglades, Fla.

These are the first new tugs built for Seabulk Towing since 2000. Including the five new tugs Seabulk will be operating a fleet of about 15 z-drive tractors of various configurations, plus two “combi-tugs” that have an azimuthing z-drive added to the bow. In total Seabulk operates more than 30 tugs in seven southeastern U.S. ports.

The new tugs are designed for fairly high-speed escorting of LNG tankers with powerful forward-mounted winches and full firefighting capability including self-deluge systems. They are Caterpillar powered with Schottel z-drives and winches from JonRie InterTech. The total package was tested as delivering up to 78.7 maximum tons of bollard pull at 5,000 hp. The tugs have a free running speed of up to 13.5 knots, according to Seabulk.

In Lake Charles, Seabulk acquired the harbor operations of Sabine Transportation Co. in 1998 and has been basing tugs temporarily at the port since then — including tractor tugs to assist with the handling of arriving LNG tankers. The other primary tugboat firm in Lake Charles, Harbor Docking Co., has two 6,000-hp z-drive tractors under construction in Louisiana and three conventional twin-screw tugs currently based at the port.

Energy Zeus crewmembers, from left to right, Capt. John Maxey, engineer Mike Hoffpauir, and port captain Clint Deyter, stand ready to take over their new tug just before delivery from Eastern Shipbuilding, Panama City, Fla.

Lake Charles, located near the west border of Louisiana, is an established and expanding LNG port with a steady flow of about 50 LNG tankers arriving yearly. That level of LNG traffic is expected to increase as the British Gas receiving terminal there continues to expand, and as a separate new terminal, being constructed by Sempra LNG, comes to fruition beginning in 2008. The Port of Lake Charles, located on controlled waterways 30 to 40 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, is also a sizable shipping port without LNG traffic, being an active petro-chemical refining center.

Seabulk’s LNG contract with British Gas in Lake Charles is unusual in that it calls for a single tug company to provide service for LNG tankers. Most other LNG contracts in the United States involved joint ventures in which two tug companies share the work with pooled assets. Before the arrival of Zeus and Hercules at Lake Charles, Seabulk was providing LNG serivice there with the tractor tugs Hawk and Condor, both of which have since moved on to assignments in other ports.

Zeus and Hercules are both typically involved with escorting arriving or departing tankers up or down the waterway connecting Lake Charles with the Gulf of Mexico. Transit speed while escorting is about 8 knots, according to Seabulk. The tugs are not often required to venture outside the breakwaters into the open sea. The tugs also perform ship-docking assistance for each LNG tanker, and one tug is typically on standby near the ship during cargo discharge. Seabulk also maintains at least one conventional tug at Lake Charles for ship-assist duties.

Energy Zeus and Energy Hercules, the first of Seabulk’s new tugs to be delivered, were built more or less simultaneously at Eastern’s shipyard in Florida. The hulls were built upside down, then rolled over by cranes, and later launched by crane, fully painted and fendered, but lacking their deckhouses and pilothouses. The tugs have Schuyler Rubber’s loop fendering at bow and stern, with some underwater fendering as well along the stem and at the chine. The hulls include 30,000 in tankage for fuel and another 14,000 gallons in ballast tankage.

Accommodations include three double cabins, a galley and lounge. The tugs are equipped with two Switlik 6-man canister life rafts.

In other news, Seabulk continues to show interest in building more of its Ship Docking Modules (SDMs) in the United States, even as two more of these successful tractor-style tugs are currently under construction in Spain — a total of four will soon be operating in that country.

Seabulk president Rogers reported this spring that his company is working on the design of a “green” version of its SDMs that would address environmental concerns at Florida ports such as Tampa, Port Everglades and Port Canaveral.

All five new Seabulk tugs are set up to handle LNG service on the Gulf Coast or elsewhere.

“We are working on putting a package together with Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle that will introduce a low-emissions and fuel-thrifty version of these ship-docking tugs to the busiest ports in Florida,” said Rogers.

The tug’s power design would be similar to that being developed by Foss Maritime, incorporating a modified diesel-electric plan with battery banks and with carbon-fiber propeller shafts that can be turned by electric motors or diesel engines, depending on power needs.

Seabulk currently operates three SDMs, the original three built by VT Halter Marine and rated at 4,000 hp. Marine Towing of Tampa operates two others. Former tug industry entrepreneur J. Erik Hvide originally developed the SDM design in the 1990s. The flat-bottom SDM design is 90 feet long with a 50-foot beam. The hull has a deep skeg at each end, along with an azimuthing z-drive.

Rogers said the company would like to build more but was recently distracted by the need to build specialized tractors for LNG requirements — a condition that could continue if the company wins further LNG contracts in Louisiana or Texas.

Seabulk Towing also has a pair of conventional tugs under construction in Spain for service with Valero Energy to be based at St. Eustatia in the Caribbean. The tugs will eventually be matched up with five oil barges being built at Jeffboat in Indiana.   

By Professional Mariner Staff