Two recent engine failures could have been disasters, says Craig Jallal; the next one could lead to mandatory escort tugs for tankers
In March this year I commented on the 30-year anniversary of the Exxon Valdez grounding, pointing out that groundings are still a feature of the tanker industry today, despite – and even at times because of – modern technology. In the story, I cited Damia Desgagnes, which ran aground as a newbuild in 2017 after the engine was accidently shut down when the cord for the bridge telephone brushed against the touch sensitive screen of the bridge engine control console.
And, as if to underscore my point, last week, a tanker newbuilding suffered an engine failure off the coast of Norway.
No outstanding environmental damage occurred in either incident, but both were close calls. In last week's incident, a third-party tug managed to secure a line to the January 2019-built product tanker and stabilise the vessel.
In some terminals and regions, escort tugs are compulsory and innovative designs are being introduced to allow tugs to escort tankers in remote ice-prone regions. The Port of Luleå in Sweden is taking delivery this year of a Wärtsilä’s HYTug hybrid power state-of-the-art Robert Allan RAL TundRA 3600-H design with a hull structure that exceeds Finnish-Swedish ice-class rules and is capable of breaking 1 m of ice at a speed of up to three knots, with a bollard pull of around 100 tonnes.
That said, escorting tankers can be a dangerous operation and there are calls from within the tug industry for simplified safety management systems.
It could also be argued that having a tug is no guarantee of an incident-free passage in coastal waters, as the collision between 2017-built, 112,700-dwt Tsakos Energy Navigation Aframax tanker Sola TS and a Norwegian frigate, KNM Helge Ingstad, near the Sture oil terminal in Norway on 8 November 2018 shows. Both Sola TS and Østensjø Rederi-operated escorting tugboat Tenax tried to hail KNM Helge Ingstad to avert the incident, and no doubt the full investigation will reveal why there was no response.
And then there is IMO 2020 and a switch to new fuels. This will be a difficult and, dare I say it, testing time (pun intended) and tanker operators will need to adapt to a new regime. We have already had a glimpse of what could occur when, just 12 months ago, vessels suffered engine failures due to rogue fuel, the cause of which was never discovered.
I don’t think it is too alarmist to paint a scenario of a laden crude oil tanker suffering an IMO 2020 fuel related main engine failure and suffering a highly public near-miss or actual grounding. In the aftermath of such a scenario, to my mind, the most obvious and quickest safety measure would be to impose escort tugs. This need not be an IMO-derived regulation, but one imposed at port and government level.
Not only would this drive up the costs, but it would also increase emissions in the region unless there was an insistence on hybrids tugs – a demand I am sure the tug industry would be only too happy to meet.
Are escort tugs the next level of tanker safety? Send your thoughts to Craig.Jallal@rivieramm.com.