Welsh-owned tug returns from West Africa

'Afon Wen' moored in Falmouth after a five-week voyage from West Africa
'Afon Wen' moored in Falmouth after a five-week voyage from West Africa
The barbed wire around the wheelhouse would offer minimal protection from potential pirate attacks and nevertheless, the Holyhead crew stayed safe
The barbed wire around the wheelhouse would offer minimal protection from potential pirate attacks and nevertheless, the Holyhead crew stayed safe
'Afon Wen' operating in the surf in Ghana
'Afon Wen' operating in the surf in Ghana
Industry Database

When a sea-battered tug arrives in a UK port with barbed wire shrouding its wheelhouse it can be assumed she has seen some adventures in far distant waters, writes Graeme Ewens.

Holyhead Towing's 25m, shallow-draft ice class AHT/workboat Afon Wen recently moored in Falmouth after a five-week voyage from West Africa. The 2009-built, twin screw vessel had been working for three years on various contracts along the Gulf of Guinea and was returning to the UK to be drydocked for its second five-year special survey. The work in tropical waters included dredging support, shallow water anchor handling, barge support, rig support, cable laying and general towage. This in a climate that contrasts with previous contracts in the ice-bound Caspian Sea.

The Russian Captain Ivan Kaygorodov, his British ‘back to back’ Captain Andy, and Latvian Chief Engineer Maris Eiferovs run a tidy ship and they are in charge of a 6-8 man crew comprised of as many nationalities, with English the international language. Two deck officers, two engineers and a cook are the mainstay of the crew, with deckhands sometimes recruited locally. The crews work on 6-8 weeks rotation which can be extended or shortened when plans change.

The Afon Wen (White River) was built for the Welsh company's Caspian Sea operation as AK Bars in 2009 at Hepworth Shipyard, UK to Lloyds +100 A1 Tug LMC UMS, Ice Class 1B classification. The loa is 25m, with 9.5m beam and minimum working draft of 2m. The 2 x Cummins KTA38-M1 engines produce a total 2200bhp at 1600rpm, giving a bollard pull of 23 tonnes and a free running speed of 11 knots. Accommodation for 12 is heated and air conditioned to suit extreme conditions such as the cold of a North Caspian Winter or the high temps of West Africa.

The barbed wire around the wheelhouse would offer minimal protection from potential pirate attacks and nevertheless, the Holyhead crew stayed safe.

Following previous experience, Capt Ivan says: "Africa is changing a lot. There used to be plenty of fishermen offering their catch. There is not so much fish any more and it has become expensive."

Captain Ivan joined the Afon Wen in 2017 after working on several other projects for Holyhead Towing. These included the massive Kashagan oil facility in the Caspian Sea where at one time Holyhead had eight vessels working. He also spent time on a salvage job in South Africa in collaboration with Titan Salvage, cutting up and removing the stranded capesize bulker Smart from Richards Bay. For that he was in charge of one of the company's triple screw tugs, with twice the bollard pull of the Afon Wen, and which are a dream to control. Having previously served on tankers, dry cargo and passenger vessels the Captain admits to really enjoying the "extremely interesting" tug work.

The 5 year drydocking is now taking place at MMS in Hull, after which the Afon Wen will be ready for her next assignment, wherever that may be.

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