A Closer Look at 'Abeille Liberte'

Abeille Liberte is capable and good looking.
Abeille Liberte is capable and good looking.
The after deck of Abeille Liberte has several interesting features.
The after deck of Abeille Liberte has several interesting features.

The entry into service of two advanced Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs), Abeille Bourbon and Abeille Liberte, designed to provide emergency response services along the French coastline and western approaches, was reported in these pages in May and October of last year. Since then both tugs have assisted a number of casualties and continue to settle down in the ETV role. As part of the familiarisation process Abeille Liberte visited Britain for a couple of days in March to participate in the MCA emergency response event Exercise Bluewater.

During this period your MJ correspondent was invited aboard to inspect the tug by officers from the French Prefecture Maritime and the ship's Captain. The visit revealed, first hand, many interesting features aboard these vessels and no apology is made for revisiting this subject.

Abeille Bourbon and sister ship Abeille Liberte are two identical and most impressive salvage tugs owned by Les Abeilles International, a Groupe Bourbon company, operating on long term charter to the French navy. The tugs are stationed at strategic locations on the French coastline, one in Brest, and the other in Cherbourg.

They replace the earlier salvage tugs, Abeille Flandres and Abeille Languedoc.

The tugs were designed and equipped by Rolls-Royce to a stringent specification produced by the owner for a multipurpose salvage tug, coastguard and standby vessel capable of operating in the very worst weather conditions.

Designated UT 515, the resulting design produced a vessel equipped to provide towage and salvage assistance to casualties at sea, deep sea towing, fire fighting and pollution control duties.

Ones first impression of Abeille Liberte and her sister are misleading. Such a sleek, streamlined and immaculate vessel can only be a multi-million Euro 'super yacht'. But behind that facade is no 'pussy-cat', the 80m tug is powered by four MAK 8M32C diesels driving twin controllable pitch propellers with a total of 21,740bhp. This gives the vessel a maximum bollard pull of over 201 tons and a maximum speed of 20 knots at maximum continuous power (MCR).

Such a high free running speed enables Abeille Liberte respond rapidly to an incident and the bollard pull is intended to prevent a stricken vessel grounding and tow it to safety A specially designed hull was developed for these vessels, incorporating a bulbous bow and relatively deep aft cross sections.

With a length of 80m and a beam of 16.5m, the tug has a service draught of about 6m.

The superstructure is located close to amidships, helping to reduce the effects of motion in the accommodation and a passive roll reduction tank system is installed.

Unlike the most modern tugs built for the ETV role, Abeille Liberte is configured as a deep sea towing and salvage tug and does not have the clear after deck and open stern that has become the norm for such vessels.

While taking a close look at the towing deck aft, the tug's Master explained that this was one feature that Les Abeille insisted should be incorporated. The bulwarks are very high and heavily rounded at their top edges.

Another surprise was the large rectangular winch house located in the centre of the towing deck in which the bridle and tugger winches are enclosed. The heavy steel wire towlines emerge from the after superstructure high above the deck and cross a protective towing arch prior to passing over the aft bulwarks. Hydraulic tow pins and line handling gear are mounted on top of the bulwarks. At first this arrangement seems unwieldy and outdated but having seen the vessel in action during the MCA towing exercises it appears to work very well and the unusually high bulwarks undoubtedly provide considerable protection for the crew working on the afterdeck.

The Rauma Brattvaag double drum towing winch has a pull of 250 tons (on the first layer) and a brake holding load of 500 tons.

Each winch drum accommodates up to 1,600m of 80mm wire rope and the entire unit is housed inside the main superstructure.

Up to 300 tons of cargo or equipment can be carried on the aft deck, which has an area of 350m 2. Large storage spaces for salvage equipment are provided either side of the main winch house, in the forward end of the aft deckhouse and in the hold.

A Hydramarine crane rated at 23tons/11m serves the working deck and there is another crane of the same make further forward for handling stores and provisions.

Abeille Liberte carries several boats, including two Springer 741 MOB boats under single point Hydramarine davits and an outboard motor powered inflatable.

The engine room in these vessels is large but well laid out.

As previously mentioned, four medium speed diesels power the tug, driving twin Kamewa Ulstein CP propellers turning in fixed nozzles. Power is transmitted through Renk combining gearboxes with power take-offs for the shaft generators and the main fire pumps. Two main engines can be clutched in to each shaft for maximum power or just one when less power is required or for economic cruising. During fire fighting operations, two (outboard) engines are used for propulsion while the second pair (inboard) power the fire pumps for the FiFi 2 system via Kumera step-up gearboxes.

Twin RR classic rudders can be controlled in unison or independently and two Kamewa Ulstein 883kW transverse thrusters are located at the bow and a pair of smaller thrusters of 515kW are located in the skeg aft. The system is controlled and monitored by a UMAS V system by single joystick or dynamic positioning.

Abeille Liberte normally operates with a crew of 12 but the accommodation for a total of 25 people, spread over four decks, is fitted out to a very high standard indeed. The crew and officers'messes are located at main deck level, along with a hospital and four berth sick bay.

A salvage operations control room, a recreation room and a block of two berth and four berth cabins are on A-deck. More single berth en-suite cabins are situated above on B-deck and at C-deck level are suites for the master and chief engineer, the officers' lounge and the ship's office. The galley is an impressive installation reminiscent of a large French restaurant There is also accommodation for a large number of survivors, who having seen the facilities available aboard the tug may well wish for a long voyage home.

A beautifully appointed bridge is laid out in the very familiar Rolls-Royce UT style. Most of the principle controls and instruments are located on a forward facing console and in an overhead display. A free standing console to starboard is mainly dedicated to safety systems and communications. The aft control station overlooking the working deck has three consoles, with most control systems duplicated, and seating for two officers.

Additional manoeuvring controls are also available on each bridge wing and the casing for the exhaust uptakes.

There is no doubt that the new French ETVs, with their wealth of equipment, are good looking and efficient. Their predecessors, Abeille Flandres and Abeille Languedoc, served the same stations on the French coast for over 25 years and worked at sea in the most appalling weather conditions and will be a hard act to follow but all the indications are that Les Abeille International have gone to great lengths to learn from that hard won experience.

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