Seaspan’s latest tug rules the B.C. coast

(Courtesy Seaspan International)

Seaspan International recently introduced the most powerful ship-docking tug on Canada’s West Coast—a 6,000-hp ASD tractor tug with forward skeg and the ability to push, pull or escort the largest ships entering the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Seaspan Resolution was built at the J.M. Martinac shipyard in Tacoma, Wash., at a reported cost of more than $17 million, to a design from Robert Allan Ltd. of Vancouver. The 98-foot tug is a close match to a pair of earlier tugs, America and Pacific Star, built in 2008 by Martinac for Signet Maritime Corp. of Texas and both chartered to Foss Maritime. Since her introduction, Resolution has been dividing her time between assignments in Vancouver’s inner harbor and at the combined container and coal terminal at Roberts Bank, about 20 miles to the south.

Introduced in late 2009 during one of the worst economic downturns in recent history, Resolution has been kept busy as the primary tug in Seaspan’s fleet of more than a dozen ship-assist vessels. Another new vessel introduced by Seaspan in early 2009 was the 27,000-barrel, double-hull, clean-oil barge Seaspan 827, constructed by sister company Vancouver Shipyards.

The Port of Vancouver, largest commercial port in Canada, in terms of container traffic, reported 2,791 foreign ship arrivals in 2009, down about 7 percent from the prior year. Many commodities shipped through the port were also down between 5 and 15 percent last year, compared to prior-year levels. The port reports that its maritime activities represent annual trading in the vicinity of $75 (U.S.) billion in goods processed at more than 25 terminals.

Seaspan, a century-old company, has gone through many stages of ownership. Today it is the largest tugboat company operating in the Vancouver area. Seaspan International is presently owned by the Washington Services Group, a large Canadian conglomerate. The primary competitor in British Columbia is SMIT Harbour Towage, through its subsidiaries, Rivtow and Tiger Tugz. In fact, Seaspan and SMIT are the major contenders to provide ship-assist services for a new LNG importation terminal planned to open by 2014 near Kitimat, B.C. Seaspan has seven z-drive ASD tugs in its fleet of 2,000 hp or better, and a substantial fleet of twin-screw conventional tugs.

It was Seaspan Resolution, however, which got all the headlines last year. The new tug is rated to deliver 82.5 tons of forward bollard pull, with power derived from a pair of EMD 12-710 G7C diesels, each rated at 3,000 hp at 900 rpm. Actual propulsion comes from a pair of Niigata model ZP-41 z-drives with 108-inch propellers.

A local company, Burrard Iron Works, provided the 250-hp model HJ electric winch, with line capacity of 750 feet of 3.5-inch diameter hawser, a brake capacity of 165 tons and line pull of 44 tons at 65 feet per minute. The winch is the first in the Seaspan fleet to have render-recovery features for its ship-assist hawser.

Seaspan Resolution differs from her sister tugs in the Vancouver area by virtue of a large and deep skeg located forward of the beam, while the z-drive propellers are located at the stern. The forward skeg design allows the tug to better apply indirect towing forces when tethered to the stern of a moving ship. By virtue of this skeg, Resolution has become the primary escort tug in the port, with rated dynamic bollard pull of 130 tons.

Despite her impressive size and power, Resolution has two three-person crews working 10 to 12-hour shifts, commuting from home each day. That shift schedule is common to many Vancouver harbor tugs, with the crews consisting of a deck hand, engineer and captain.

Another Seaspan tug, Seaspan Discovery, at 107 feet in length and 4,000 hp, was designed specifically for work at the nearby Deltaport. The Seaspan fleet of ship-assist boats also includes almost a dozen tugs belonging to the former Cates company which was acquired by the parent company.

The company is much more than a one-port ship docking company, however. The Seaspan fleet (and that of parent company Washington Services Group) includes dozens of barges of many different types and sizes, including wood chip barges, a wide variety of cargo barges, bunkering equipment and a half-dozen oil barges. In addition to tug and barge work, the company also operates a multi-port bunkering service, three shipyards, and five cargo and transport ferries in waters of southern British Columbia and to nearby Vancouver Island.

Vancouver may be about the best possible location for a financially strong tugboat company—recession or not. In addition to the inner Port of Vancouver itself, local tugboats provide ship-docking services at the Roberts Bank Superport in Delta. This facility, exposed to open water of the Strait of Georgia, traditionally draws service from the larger or more powerful tugs in the region.

Earlier this year, the port opened a new $400 million third berth at the Deltaport container terminal, an expansion which increases its capacity by 50 percent to 1.8 million TEU.

The Deltaport, also known as Roberts Bank Superport, is a terminal facility developed off the coastline south of Vancouver at the end of a long causeway built over a shallow bank. It was designed for the export of coal in the 1960s, but has since expanded to become one of the largest container facilities on the continent.

By Professional Mariner Staff