ITS 2018 puts the spotlight on the tug and salvage industry

Damen's second ASD 2513 was presented at ITS 2018 in Marseille (Peter Barker)
Damen's second ASD 2513 was presented at ITS 2018 in Marseille (Peter Barker)
Robert Allan paid tribute to the late Allan Brunton-Reed (ITS)
Robert Allan paid tribute to the late Allan Brunton-Reed (ITS)
Exhibitors from around the world complemented the conference sessions (Peter Barker)
Exhibitors from around the world complemented the conference sessions (Peter Barker)
Delegates debated 26 high-quality papers at ITS 2018 (Peter Barker)
Delegates debated 26 high-quality papers at ITS 2018 (Peter Barker)

Industry figures from across the world have gathered in Marseille for the biennial Tug, Salvage & OSV Convention and Exhibition. Peter Barker went along for ‘MJ’ to gauge the mood of the industry.

Organised by The ABR Company Ltd, the event alternates with its biennial Tugnology Conference, each providing a unique opportunity for the industry to share experiences candidly while encouraging debate with mutual understanding and respect for what are shared problems and concerns.

This was the 25th ITS conference spanning 50 years and the first to be held in France. It started on a sombre note however, marking the passing of the event’s founder Allan Brunton-Reed who was remembered along with other industry figures, no longer part of this special family. Following this, Madame Cabau Woehrel, Présidente du Directoire, Port of Marseille - Fos welcomed delegates providing a brief history and explaining the significance of Marseille as France’s major port.

Long-time supporter of ITS conferences, Robert Allan presented the first paper reflecting on the evolution of tug design. Particularly enlightening was his reflection on previous conferences and a suitable introduction to proceedings including the observation that the first paper on unmanned tugs was presented in 1988.

He lightheartedly recounted exchanges between previous speakers and delegates demonstrating the passion within the industry and its keenness to challenge others’ views. He also briefed the audience on the ABR Memorial Fund set up to establish a legacy to the memory of Allan Brunton-Reed.

Automation was a recurring theme and Ben Harris from The Shipowners’ Protection UK explored the implications from P&I insurers’ angles stating the drive for automation was not coming from the shipping industry but the people it serves, an example being Yara Birkeland the word’s first autonomous container ship currently under construction, driven by the ambitions of Norway-based fertiliser company Yara.

Around 1,000 autonomous vessels are already in service worldwide, mainly small naval craft but regulatory considerations do present challenges. Are they a ship? do they comply with colregs including ‘safe lookout’? the speaker stating it was actually harder to comply with ‘bluewater’ than ‘short-sea’ regulations.

Differences between remotely-controlled and autonomous ships were explored, each statistically safer without human involvement. Questions about the consequences of mechanical failure prompted the (no doubt welcome) reply that there is always an efficient salvage industry on hand.

An assessment of the global tug market was provided by Alec Lang from ACL Shipbrokers UK who had approached a range of owners and others, seeking candid views on the state of the market.

Operators reported large variations in towage rates considered “unsustainable” and “spreadsheet driven”, one respondent describing it as a “race to the bottom”. Conversely however, others reported rates picking up. Consolidation was considered inevitable although such measures do not necessarily result in fewer tugs. Mr Lang’s research found that older tugs can sometimes fetch a multiple of their book price in the resale market.

An interesting observation was that when built in 1986, four 50tbp tugs were employed to handle the world’s largest bulk carrier Berge Stahl. Thirty years later four 80tbp tugs often do the same job.

Baldo Dielen, partner, Eddy Tug, Brazil expressed his belief that electric motor-powered tugs “are the future as zero-emissions tugs become a necessity”. He presented a concept tug project, Eddy X-75 and Eddy X-85 featuring in-line propulsion. With low-profile accommodation Mr Dielen stated you don’t have to go wide to increase stability. The winch wire can be guided virtually abeam with other novel features including remote cameras instead of overhead windows which he stated can result in problems seeing screens and a drone to transfer the messenger line.

An insight into suitability of ships’ deck fittings was provided by Captain Arie Nygh from SeaWays Consultants, Australia. Ships’ bollard strengths are based on mooring to a berth not with regard to tugs’ bollard pulls. When towing there is a massive multiplication of forces on ships’ fittings due to towline lead angles, particularly downwards leading to fittings or their foundations collapsing.

In fairness to shipbuilders, vessel designers many years ago did not expect tugs would provide 160 tonnes of indirect bollard pull and SeaWays has been trialing dual escort towing, two tugs spreading the load plus a pragmatic guide for masters highlighting forces involved.

Damen’s Dirk Degroote and Dani Marouane explored the digital transformation of tugs, the current climate put into perspective eloquently with the speaker quoting Mario Andretti “if everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough”.

A connection with earlier discussion about remotely-operated and autonomous tugs surfaced in their description of cloud-based monitoring including the presentation of information to the master, providing advice and finally intervening if required, in effect eliminating human involvement. Of note were efforts involved in developing adequate cyber-security provision.

Mounting the towing winch on a ring encircling the accommodation is not new and Julian Oggel from Novatug BV provided an update on the two Carrousel RAve Tugs Multratug 32 and Multratug 33. Initial results are positive with inherent safety benefits from transferring the point of tow from the centreline towards the tug’s extreme beam. Mr Oggel explained the principle does not require a fin, the tug itself being the fin adding it can operate within the assisted ship’s length.

Regulatory developments supporting innovation in the towing industry were explored by Eva Peño from Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore. Amendments to regulatory codes followed the Bourbon Dolphin tragedy in 2007 and further developments include tailor-made stability information for masters and regulations aimed at preventing self-tripping.

New stability regulations for escort operations are also under consideration by BV who state the time has come to be leaders not followers. One delegate suggested masters should complete a check card before commencing operations including closing of hatches and ensuring the crew are on deck or in the wheelhouse.

Thoughts on preventative and predictive maintenance of its azimuthing thrusters were shared by Schottel’s Michael Sabel who stated that between 2013 and 2016 a Brazilian tug fleet halved its total downtime by adopting predictive maintenance stating ‘virtual engineers’ can access data remotely and advise crew accordingly. When asked by the chairman if this can replace the traditional engineer who sees, hears, feels and smells his engine, Mr Sabel responded that their system had more noses and smells more efficiently than a human!

LNG as a fuel was mentioned regularly and Thomas Huldner from Marine Firefighting, USA presented an informative paper on properties of LNG and consequences of spillages and fires. He stressed the importance of crew training for these and more conventional fires and how tackling an LNG fire with water will worsen the situation. When asked, he stated most ship fires originate in the engine room, usually from fuel leaks, the galley being the next most popular origins for a fire.

MJ reported recently on Wärtsilä’s HY Tug project and Ay Hwa Ngoh and Joost van Eijnatten from Wärtsilä described their process of selecting hybrid diesel mechanical and hybrid diesel electric from nine potential configurations stressing the energy management system is at the heart of the HY tug with one delegate questioning the cost and lifespan of batteries.

The theme of tug design continued with Ainara Martin and Guillermo Martin from Cintranaval Ship Design, Spain providing an interesting technical insight into how tug performance was calculated followed by Igor Strashny from Caterpillar Inc, USA describing its Advanced Variable Drive propulsion system in detail. Scalable up to 25MW it optimises engine speed independent of propeller speed.

The final paper of ITS 2018 told the story of perhaps the most eye-catching delivery in recent years, the trio of dual-fuel high performance LNG RAstar 4000DF escort tugs by Gondán Shipyards for Østensjø Rederi. Todd Barber and Allan Turner from Robert Allan Ltd provided an insight into how the challenges of developing tugs required to operate in extreme weather conditions providing significant bollard pull and speed were met.

No ITS is complete without at least one tug and the Damen-sponsored evening reception preceding the conference saw the arrival on-cue of its second new design RSD 2513. Unlike the first, Innovation (see MJ July 2018), Bis Viridis (Latin for twice green) has a green livery reflecting its environment credentials.

A half-day session was held on the subject of salvage and a summary of the proceedings will appear in October’s salvage column. More in-depth analysis and reflection of topics covered at ITS 2018 will also be covered in future editions.

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