GAC is looking for growth opportunities in India and Egypt, Smit and Resolve gain salvage orders and Safeen is working with Mauritius Ports Authority
Towage companies operating throughout the Middle East are finding pockets of demand for their vessels from marine construction, new ports and offshore oil and gas operations. But fleet utilisation is impacted by the large volume of laid-up vessels in the region. This is creating an oversupply issue for owners, despite the high costs of reactivating unused tugs, says GAC vice president for marine operations Erland Ebbersten.
“The market is challenging as demand and supply are not in balance,” he explains. “There is considerable oversupply and the industry is talking about the cost of reactivating vessels if they are laid up too long.”
Reactivation requirements involve replacing propulsion and pipework on vessels. Despite reactivation costs and time, owners are reluctant to scrap laid up tugs and anchor handlers.
Instead, GAC is focused on keeping fleet utilisation high by ensuring its tugs and anchor handlers are ready to support marine construction and oilfield projects. It operates a fleet of nine tugs, with power ranging from 560 kW to 5,960 kW and bollard pulls of 10-50 tonnes.
Its tugs are used for general towage, barge handling, supporting dredging operations, ship berthing, canal transit and towing third-party equipment.
GAC operates eight barges in the region, ranging from 1,200 dwt to 8,000 dwt used for heavy lift roro operations, carrying coated pipe, and material for offshore and marine construction.
GAC also operates five anchor handling tugs, two anchor handling tug and supply and seven crew supply vessels in the Middle East.
“Our fleet is mostly anchor handlers and tugs for towage,” says Mr Ebbersten. “They move barges around for engineering contractors for marine construction and oilfield operations, for land reclamation projects, building harbour infrastructure and for constructing oil and gas production islands.”
This fleet operates in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and occasionally in Qatar. GAC is working to extend its operations. “We are looking to expand into Egypt where there are developments in the Red Sea, and on the Saudi Arabia side, for tug and barge operations,” says Mr Ebbersten. “We are considering moving existing resources and perhaps new ones.” GAC also operates anchor handling tugs in the Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan sectors of the Caspian Sea.
“We clean the hulls with divers or put these vessels into our own drydock where we can do a better job”
An important requirement for maintaining high utilisation is cleaning the hulls of its marine assets, says Mr Ebbersten. “We need to manage marine growth on our vessels that accumulates if vessels stand still, even for just one month.” If this growth remains unchecked it can spread to sea chests “which can mean problems with the engines” he explains. Therefore, intervention is required before vessels can return to work. “We clean the hulls with divers or put these vessels into our own drydock where we can do a better job,” says Mr Ebbersten.
GAC operates its own shipyard in Abu Dhabi for drydockings and newbuilding projects. It is currently building an anchor handling tug that could have up to 150 tonnes of bollard pull and be deployed in west Africa from 2021.
“We employ more people and resources where it is needed. They can work on the newbuilding,” says Mr Ebbersten. “When one of our vessels comes into the shipyard for routine drydocking, workers will go on to that. When there is slack in drydocking work, these workers will return to the newbuilding.”
GAC also operates a fleet of supply and towage vessels in Sri Lanka. This includes six crew and supply vessels, and four workboats. “We have vessels there for different types of activity including supplying ships from Goa and in the winter season there are many distress calls, so there is salvage and emergency towage,” says Mr Ebbersten.
GAC is looking to expand these operations into India. “We might add a vessel to the fleet to break into this market,” he explains. “It would be purchased on the secondhand market as there are vessels available at good prices. All it would need is a new coat of paint and it would be ready.”
GAC Middle East fleet
Tugs >2,900 kW: 3
Tugs 750-2,900 kW: 4
Tugs <750 kW: 2
Crew boats: 7
Anchor handling tugs: 5
Barges >6,000 dwt: 4
Barges <6,000 dwt: 4
Sri Lanka supply boats: 6
Sri Lanka workboats: 4
Indeed, there are plenty of salvage requirements in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman, particularly with increasing attacks on tankers in the region. In June, Royal Boskalis Westminster’s Smit Salvage was appointed as salvor for two tankers – Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous – that were damaged in unexplained attacks.
Frontline’s LR2 product carrier Front Altair suffered from an explosion and fire and Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM)-managed methanol carrier Kokuka Courageous was holed by explosions in separate incidents near the Strait of Hormuz, in Oman waters, but near Iranian territory.
Damen-built tug, EMAR Offshore Services’ E-Two was en route from India to Fujairah when it helped extinguish the fire on Front Altair on 13 June. Utility vessel Coastal Ace was en route from Singapore to Al Hamriya, UAE, when it steamed to assist Kokuka Courageous.
By 16 June, Smit Salvage had mobilised towing tug, Aquila, and two other vessels to tow Front Altair to the Fujairah-Khor Fakkan area. Kokuka Courageous was also towed to safety.
These incidents came after four other tankers were attacked off the coast of Fujairah in May, demonstrating the rising need for salvage operations in the region.
Resolve Marine Group was also busy in Oman in the first four months of this year, salvaging bulk cement carrier Raysut II. This vessel lost steering after leaving the port of Salalah and grounded on wildlife-rich Al-Fazayah Beach in Oman in May 2018.
In November 2018, Resolve Marine was contracted to refloat the wreck and tow it to a safe port for cargo unloading and demolition. Resolve mobilised salvage and wreck removal tug Resolve Monarch and crane barge RMG 1000 from Singapore. In February, Resolve patched up the wreck and refloated it with the cargo on board. The wreck was towed to the port of Salalah, where most of the cargo was discharged. These operations were completed on 11 April.
Safeen starts new port operations and gains new contract in UAE
Port expansion in the United Arab Emirates has boosted tug requirements and opened opportunities for co-operation outside the region.
Abu Dhabi Marine Services (Safeen) increased its operations this year with the addition of tugs and training crews to support the AED10Bn (US$2.7Bn) expansion of Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi, purchasing two azimuth stern drive (ASD) tugs from Damen Shipyards in November 2018.
These ASD 2411 tugboats came into service in Q1 2019, after being outfitted at Damen Albwardy, in Sharjah, when they boosted Safeen’s fleet to 12 harbour tugs. These service ultra-large container ships berthing at Khalifa and ships importing bauxite at the Al Taweelah smelter.
Safeen is responsible for pilotage, mooring, vessel handing and towage at Abu Dhabi Ports. It is staffed by more than 200 certified personnel and some of these needed training to prepare for the arrival of the newbuild tugs and in handling ships at Khalifa. This was conducted in co-operation with Dutch group Tug Training & Consultancy.
Safeen will expand its portfolio of services again in the UAE after agreeing to support the shortsea transportation and transhipment of bulk cargoes for Emirates Steel.
Under this 10-year, AED1Bn (US$272M) agreement, Safeen will provide marine support services for three shipments of iron ore per month, starting in January 2021. Safeen will also be responsible for purchasing, leasing, operating and maintaining the required cargo ships, trailers and unloading equipment for Emirates Steel.
In the meantime, Safeen will be jointly researching ways to improve efficiency of tugboat operations with the Mauritius Ports Authority. This is under a wider memorandum of understanding between Abu Dhabi Ports and Mauritius authorities, which includes enhancing port infrastructure, security and training initiatives for deck and engine officers.
In June 2019, Safeen acting chief executive Captain Adil Banihammad said there would be benefits for maritime services for both parties. “Our value creation strategy at Safeen is guided by our drive to build win-win partnerships with port operators and their communities overseas,” he said. “Our partnership will help us build greater synergies and improve efficiency by sharing industry-shaping data, knowledge and expertise, enhancing the way we do business.”
Mauritius Ports Authority, which operates the main gateway Port Louis Harbour, and Safeen will jointly address pressing issues including health, safety and environment management.
In Dubai, DP World’s Drydocks World has started constructing a harbour tug that complies with IMO Tier III emission requirements. This will be an asymmetric tractor tug, built to a Cintranaval CND-17009 eco-silent design for P&O Reyser to operate in the Port of Barcelona, Spain, from Q3 2020.
Turkish owners and builders benefit from rising tugboat demand
Turkish shipowner Düzgit Group has expanded its towage services in the busy Bosporus area of Turkey with the delivery of two new multipurpose workboats.
Düzgit Group brought new workboat Salim Düzgit into service in June. This 20-m vessel was launched in April 2019 with deck area for cargo, personnel transportation and marine construction support. Düzgit built this vessel at its own shipyard in Yalova, 20 km from Tuzla, Turkey.
Düzgit also started operating utility workboat Poyraz Koy in June after it was built by Sanmar in Turkey. This 19.8-m shallow-draught vessel will be used for towage, cargo transportation, crewing services, marine construction and maintenance work.
Poyraz Koy was built to a Robert Allan RAlly 1900-SX design as a versatile steel twin screw utility vessel. It has a clear working deck for transporting cargo or equipment, marine contracting and construction work, navigation aids maintenance and anchor handling.
Turkish operator Marintug also expanded its services by adding a Bogacay-class tug with 60 tonnes of bollard pull. This was built by Sanmar to a Robert Allan RAmparts 2400-SX design.
Marintug ordered this tug after it started providing towage services at Tekirdağ Ceyport harbour. It already provides towage in the Izmıt Gulf with a modern fleet of tugboats. This new 24-m, azimuth stern drive (ASD) tug has two Caterpillar 3512C main engines that each produce 1,765 kW of power at 1,800 rpm. These drive two Kongsberg US 205 fixed pitch thrusters.
Sanmar has gained new tug construction orders from UK operators this year. It is building a Bogacay-class tug with 70 tonnes of bollard pull for Ineos Forties Pipeline System. This RAmparts 2400-SX design tug will operate in Scotland at the Hound Point Forties crude oil export terminal in the Firth of Forth.
Targe Towing, which will operate the tug, has subsequently ordered an identical tug for its own northeast Scottish port operations. Both tugs will be Bureau Veritas-classed with a FiFi1 fire-fighting system.
Rival Turkish tug builder Med Marine delivered a 23-m, ASD tugboat to Saam Guatemala two months after they signed the contract. Saam Itza sailed from Med Marine’s Ereğli Shipyard to Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, on 15 July 2019. It was built to a Robert Allan Ramparts 2300-MM design with 50 tonnes of bollard pull.
At Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala’s largest Pacific Ocean port, Saam Itza will assist ships transporting containers, bulk sugar, LPG, bulk fuel and coal to a multipurpose terminal.
This ASD tug has two CAT 3512 main engines that each develop 1,765 kW of power at 1,800 rpm. These drive two Kongsberg US205 P20 fixed pitch thrusters.
Uzmar built terminal tugs in Turkey for Svitzer’s Australian operations this year. In May, Svitzer Ruby, with 80 tonnes of bollard pull, left the shipyard and arrived at Port Kembla, while sister tug Svitzer Redhead join the fleet in Fremantle at the end of April.
Smart Tug Operations Conference will be held in Singapore on 16 September 2019