Innovative designs built for efficient towage

Naval architecture developments were turned into real-life tugs in 2023 as owners and builders worked to deliver more efficient vessels. Svitzer worked with Robert Allan Ltd to design the TRAnsverse tug hullform, superstructure, decks and towing arrangement.

Sanmar Shipyards launched the first of these 26-m TRAnsverse tugs at its Tuzla construction facility in Turkey in September and by the end of the year, it was prepared to commence operations in Europe. Two more of similar design are on order with Uzmar Shipyard for work in Newcastle, Australia.

These TRAnsverse multipurpose tugs are expected to generate higher steering forces than most designs of similar dimensions, due to the staple design and unique ability to push, pull and manoeuvre in all directions.

Svitzer expects TRAnsverse tugs to be more fuel-efficient than tugboats of other designs and suitable for all types of harbour and terminal towage operations. These scalable designs have an omni-direction hullform and propulsion, a unique towing arrangement, and steering forces over the full range of speeds and manoeuvres.

Twin diesel engines will drive two azimuth thrusters with fixed-pitch propellers at the stern, achieving a bollard pull of around 60 tonnes, while the vessel can accommodate six crew.

In May, Damen Shipyards unveiled its new compact azimuth stern drive (ASD) tugboat design, ASD Tug 2111 and started building them in China, ready to join owners’ fleets in 2024. It introduced the design for ship handling in harbours where there is little space for manoeuvres, with 50 tonnes of bollard pull.

These 21-m tugs have a high freeboard, which keeps water on deck to a minimum, and a full-vision bridge providing a 360° view from the deckhouse over the surrounding waters and fore and aft decks.

The hull design and fendering allows the tug to get close to an assisted vessel, and clutter-free decks prevent trip hazards.

LNG terminals bring fleet expansion opportunities

When Russia invaded Ukraine, this major geopolitical event had global consequences few anticipated, not least on the availability, acceptability and deliverability of natural gas.

Europe had become reliant on Russian pipeline gas and switching off the Russian pipelines generated a huge rush for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Europe, leading to a booming market worldwide, driving investment in field developments, construction of new import and export terminals and new LNG carrier fleets. These are supporting tugboats with ship escort and fire-fighting capabilities assisting in berthing and undocking gas carriers at these terminals.

European nations are opening new LNG import centres using floating structures at a rapid pace, due to a lack of space and time for building onshore terminals, providing considerable opportunities for tug owners to expand and modernise their fleets.

Countries rich in gas resources are building LNG export hubs to generate enough supply to meet the rising global demand.

To ship LNG across the oceans, new gas carriers are required. BRL Shipping Consultants’ data shows there are 452 LNG carriers in the global shipyard orderbook, of which 93 were ordered this year.

Each LNG terminal, whether on land or offshore, requires at least four tugboats to manoeuvre gas carriers to quaysides or dedicated moorings. With so many terminals opening or under construction, new towage services and tugs are required, fuelling newbuilding construction across the sector.

Several of the latest marine services and towage contracts are to support new LNG terminals in the long term, enabling owners to innovate and commit resources.

Tug owners have used these concessions to enter new markets. Svitzer opened operations in Greece and took delivery of a fleet of newbuildings this year to support Gastrade’s Alexandroupolis Independent Natural Gas System LNG terminal. In Germany, Fairplay Towage and Boluda Towage added new tugs to support LNG import terminals.

In the US, there has been a renaissance in tug construction with many newbuildings being prepared to support LNG export terminals, while there has been a surge in innovative tugs built for British Columbia ports.

More LNG export projects will follow, and new terminals will be opened as the world becomes more reliant on shipping gas globally. Specialised escort and terminal tugs will be needed worldwide, generating considerable business for tug owners willing to invest in their fleets.

Fleets ordered for two major shipping canals

The grounding and salvage of Ever Given ultra-large container ship in the Suez Canal a few years ago was a turning point for the operator of this key shipping shortcut between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. It highlighted the importance of the Suez Canal to global trade, the consequences of its extended closure and the shortfall of tugs the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) operated or could source quickly to remove stuck ships.

It took nearly a week to remove Ever Given, blocking trade between the Indian Ocean, Europe and the Atlantic, something the SCA vowed would never happen again.

Its response was to order newbuilds from China and a local existing shipyard, then to purchase its own shipyard in Egypt and start its own construction campaign.

In 2023, SCA ordered 10 new escort-class harbour tugs with 85 tonnes of bollard pull from its South Red Sea Shipyard (SRSS) in Egypt.

These will play a crucial role in ensuring the smooth passage of ships through the Suez Canal when they are delivered, and will enable SCA to hand back some of the tugs it chartered from others.

SRSS selected Robert Allan Ltd to supply its RAstar 3200-W design for these azimuth stern drive tugs, and Anglo Belgian Corp to supply 20 marine diesel engines.

In Latin America, the operator of the other major shipping shortcut, the Panama Canal Authority, matched these plans by ordering 10 tugs from Armón Shipyard, Spain, for delivery from 2025, in a contract valued at US$150M.

There are options to build more of these tugs, with 70 tonnes of bollard pull and hybrid-electric propulsion, after the first 10 are completed.

Low water levels through the canal has led to delays and greater use of Panama’s ports for unloading and loading cargo, adding demand to the existing tugboat fleet in the nation. The authority has several tugs on long-term charter from other owners, and wishes to replace them with these new tugs, which will have Wabtec engines once they are built.


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