Tampa towing company completes all-tractor tug fleet

Marine Towing of Tampa, through acquisition of new tugs and disposal of others, has recently earned the distinction of being the only tugboat company in North America operating an all-tractor tug fleet.

The company recently took delivery of a new 5,000 hp z-drive tug and, in the last two years, has disposed of two conventional tugs in its fleet — Shannon, at the end of its charter, and Colonel, sold to a Miami-based tug operator.

Marine Towing (MTT) today operates a pair of 5,000 hp z-drive tugs, both virtually brand new, and a pair of identical SDM (ship-docking modules) tractor-style tugs with z-drives mounted fore and aft.

“Those four modern vessels are the perfect amount of tugs that we need right now to take care of the needs of our customers,” said Norman Atkins, operations manager for the 7-year-old company. In Tampa, Florida’s largest port by measure of cargo volume, MTT competes roughly equally with Seabulk Towing, which operates a mixed fleet of conventional and tractor-style tugs.

About 3,600 ships called at Tampa last year, most of them bulk cargo vessels with a healthy flow of cruise ships and the beginnings of container traffic. Annual cargo volume is about 50 million tons, which is about half of all the cargo moving through Florida ports, according to the Tampa Port Authority. The port, situated on the west central coast of Florida, is dredged to better than 43 feet in its main shipping channel.

MTT’s newest tug, Freedom, was delivered in late 2005 from the Washburn & Doughty shipyard in East Boothbay, Maine. The company’s previous tug, Independent, was also a Washburn & Doughty product, delivered in 2004. Like her predecessor, Freedom is a Caterpillar-powered z-drive tractor, 92-feet in length, with a Markey hawser winch on her bow and 3,000 gpm firefighting capability with fore and aft monitors.

Greg Matthews and Scott Morehead are skippers of the new tug, although senior captain Jim Brantner Jr. picked her up in Maine and brought her back to Florida. Brantner, who has been first captain on every MTT tugboat, now serves as port captain.
His father, Jim Brantner Sr., is vice president and general manager of the company, which is principally owned by members of the Steinbrenner family including George Steinbrenner and Steve Swindal.

MTT officials figure they’ve got a good combination with two each of two different types of modern tractor tugs. “The way we often deploy these vessels is with the stern drive tug made up on the center chock aft to be able to back the ship easily and help turn the stern,” said Atkins. “Then we have the SDM up on the bow for use when the ship turns into a slip or gets into close quarters. The SDM can fold in right alongside the ship and still apply pushing or pulling power from that position. She becomes, in effect, a 4,000 hp bow thruster. That’s the way it’s often done, but of course, each pilot has his own ideas about how the job should be done,” he added.
The SDM tugs, six of which have been built in America and one in Spain, were originally designed for exactly that kind of application — assisting ships in and out of the narrow slips in Port Everglades, Fla. Seabulk Towing, which operates four SDMs, usually has at least one of these unusual-looking tugboats based at Tampa.

MTT earns all of its operating revenue from ship docking work on Tampa Bay and in nearby Port Manatee. The company’s newest tug, Freedom, has H-bitts and a Timberland electric capstan on her stern. The single-chine hull includes tankage for 29,000 gallons of fuel and 3,000 gallons of potable water. AC electric power comes from a pair of John Deere 99 kw generators and wheelhouse electronics include Simrad radar, Nobeltec GPS and chartplotting, Icom radios, Ansul alarm system, and Rolls-Royce and Caterpillar controls.


Tampa could one day become a substantial container port, which would mean further growth for its tugboat companies. Earlier this year the Tampa Port Authority introduced three new gantry cranes and an expanded container terminal with 1,750 feet of berthing space. Container traffic in fiscal 2005 was reported at 26,646 TEUs, up dramatically from a reported 17,277 in the prior year.

By Professional Mariner Staff