Elbe runs trials after eight years of hard work

The historic deepsea tug Elbe is shown underway for the first time to carry out a full day of trials. Photo courtesy Marin van Hoorn The historic deepsea tug Elbe is shown underway for the first time to carry out a full day of trials. Photo courtesy Marin van Hoorn

A massive project to completely restore the ocean going tug Elbe to its original 1959 condition took a great step forward on Saturday 14 April after eight years of hard work by a dedicated team of enthusiasts.

The 59.09m long vessel left its berth in Maasluis under the command of Captain Hans Hoffmann, a Rotterdam pilot and leader of the restoration project. A couple of small tugs assisted Elbe on its early morning departure from the confines of Maasluis harbour, the former home of Smit and its deepsea fleet. Once clear of the harbour entrance the tug was under its own power and heading for a short visit to Rotterdam.

Captain Hoffmann said that Elbe behaved perfectly and in spite of setbacks experienced during the restoration project there were no problems. Whilst underway the compass was adjusted and the vessel was put through a normal post-refit trials programme before returning to its berth on the evening high tide.

Elbe was completed in February 1959 by the J & K Smits Shipyard in Kinderdijk at a time when the feet of Smit International was growing rapidly in size and capability. Measuring 58.09m in length overall, with a beam of 11.23m and depth of 5.02m the vessel was powered by two Smit-MAN 6 cylinder, four stroke diesel main engines generating a total of 2,780 shaft horsepower. The engines drive a single open propeller via a reverse reduction gearbox.

A series of similar tugs were constructed within a very few years by the same shipyard, all named after well known rivers. Elbe had only one close sister ship, the Clyde, completed in 1957. As part of the growing Smit seagoing fleet, Elbe carried out or participated in a wide range of deepsea towing and salvage operations worldwide.

Its career with the company ended in 1976 when it was sold to the Association of Maryland Pilots of Baltimore, USA, for use as a seagoing pilot vessel bearing the name Maryland. In 1985 the vessel was purchased by Greenpeace and took the place of the ill-fated Rainbow Warrior as the organisation’s flagship, bearing the name Greenpeace. The vessel served with Greenpeace until 2002, taking part in numerous projects and travelling round the world manys times, including frequent visits to Antarctica.

The project to preserve the vessel as a working museum began when the Foundation Maritime Collection Rijnmond (Stichting Maritieme Collectie Rijnmond) acquired the tug the same year. Under the chairmanship of Hans Hoffmann, the project gained massive support from enthusiasts and the maritime industry in the Netherlands. A suitable berth was found in Maasluis, within sight of the National Tugboat Museum, formerly the headquarters of Smit International.

The massive task of completely restoring the Elbe to its original 1959 condition has been far from easy and the project suffered two major set backs that would have defeated a less determined group. In July 2004 the tug was struck and sunk at moorings in Rotterdam by a ship manoeuvring at an adjacent berth. The vessel was refloated and repairs to the hull had been completed when in October Elbe inexplicably sank at the Wartsila yard at Schiedam where the Smit-MAN main engines were being overhauled. By that stage much of the ship's machinery had been completely overhauled and work was progressing on the renewal of electric cabling. The vessel was found to be settling deeper in the water and the was found to be flooding very quickly for no apparent reason. Smit mobilised tugs and a diving team but could not prevent the vessel being seriously flooded. The cause was never found but sabotage was suspected.

Elbe’s resolute team of volunteers, totalling about 70 in all, continued their work in spite of considerable additional work caused by the flooding. When your correspondent visited the tug over a year ago it was a hive of activity. Included in the band of volunteers are skilled engineers, shipyard workers, retired and working tugmen, pilots and many others with valuable skills. All of the machinery has been painstakingly overhauled and returned to good working order.. When the main engines were started for the first time a few months ago and the ship started to become alive it gave the team a well deserved boost.

All of the work has been completed to a very high standard and there is still much to do. Apart from restoring the tug to its original state, the Foundation also intends to involve the Elbe in some of the Netherland’s various maritime festivals. The latter requires passenger certification and considerable work and expense is involves to meet the required standards. That work is almost complete and from the sping of next year Elbe will be able to attend local events with its normal crew plus 80 passengers and, for longer voyages, the crew plus 12 passengers. Work to restore the Elbe to such a high standard has only been possible due to massive support from industry and private donations. The list of sponsors includes many famous names and prestigious companies, some of which are acknowledged by the flags that Elbe flys.

On Saturday, 12May the Harbour Tug Vaardag Maassluis will have opened with a cruise on the New Waterway. And In September, Elbe will also participate in the World Harbour Days in Rotterdam.

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