As Svitzer exits the Portuguese tug sector, Italian owners invest in Greece
The Mediterranean is an increasingly competitive, diverse and dynamic harbour and coastal towage market. From Portugal to Greece tug owners are either refocusing operations or expanding them. They have added new tugs to fleets to enhance towage capabilities and sold fleets to invest elsewhere.
The biggest corporate development in the region this year was Svitzer’s decision to leave the Portuguese market and divest its assets as part of an in-country management buyout. Fifteen of its tugboats were sold to Pioneiro do Rio, Serviços Maritimos for an undisclosed value.
Svitzer Europe managing director Kasper Friis Nilaus says the sale was due to falling towage requirements in Portugal. “The market conditions in Portugal are difficult, especially the declining volumes,” he says. “We want to deliver not only strong operational performance but also strong financial performance everywhere we operate.”
This Portuguese divestment will enable Svitzer to focus its resources elsewhere. “We are constantly looking for growth and will be looking at options around Europe for opportunities to make additions,” says Mr Nilaus.
Pioneiro do Rio will be run by the current managing director of Svitzer Portugal, Rui Cruz, and will take over Svitzer’s operations in the three ports of Lisbon, Setubal and Sines.
This transaction, which also includes Svitzer’s crews and shore staff in Portugal, is subject to customary closing conditions, which includes a mandatory filing with the Portuguese competition authority submitted by the buying party. It is expected to be completed before the end of 2019.
Svitzer retains operations in the Mediterranean region with fleets of tugs stationed in Morocco, where it provides marine services for the Tanger Med terminals. It added new Sanmar-built Bigacay series tugs to that fleet in 2018 after securing a long-term contract to provide marine services for the Tanger Med 2 terminal.
It also operates seven tugs in Egypt, where Svitzer signed a 10-year agreement with the Suez Canal Port Authority earlier this year.
Also in Portugal, Reboques E Assistencia Naval (Rebonave) provides harbour and oceangoing towage services.
It delivers towing services to the Lisnave shipyards, where Rebonave has its operations base, and operates tugboats to assist ships in Setúbal, Sines and Lisbon harbour terminals. Rebonave also provides resources for fire-fighting and pollution control in Portuguese ports and coastal towage services around the nation’s coasts in close co-operation with the Portuguese Maritime Authorities.
The tugowner was founded in 1989 as a spinoff from Lisnave Shipyards. “Since the beginning, our strategy, work and dedication led us to become the largest national maritime towage company with unique characteristics,” says Rebonave director general and managing director José Costa.
“We provide international deepsea towing services with oceangoing tugs across the Atlantic and Mediterranean, along European coasts and to the west and east coasts of Africa,” he explains.
The group is organised in three companies, with different shareholding participation in accordance with the port of operations. PTL operates in Lisbon, Reboport in Sines and Rebonave in Setúbal, where the oceangoing tugs are based.
New tug deliveries
“The market is tough and we continue struggling to survive on a day-by-day basis through hard work and effort”
Its fleet comprises of 10 tugs with bollard pulls ranging 30-53 tonnes, built between 1971 and 2013. It employs more than 150 people and its quality, environment and safety management system is certified under the ISO9001, ISO14001 and OSHAS18001 standards by Lloyd’s Register, says Mr Costa.
He explains how towage companies need to remain resilient to operate effectively in Portugal. “The market is tough and we continue struggling to survive on a day-by-day basis through hard work and effort,” says Mr Costa.
“For the time being, we are able to demonstrate how resilient we are, but the big challenge now is maintaining all our operations.”
He thinks a company strength is its nautical-facing team. “We have the technical skills in the field of seamanship services and nautical manoeuvres in ports and shipyards, including dock masters,” says Mr Costa. “We also regularly invest in new tugs.”
In other corporate agreements, Italian tug owners have expanded their operations in Greece. In June, tug owners Rimorchiatori Mediterranei, Neri and Cafimar’s joint venture, Greece-headquartered GMC, agreed to acquire a controlling interest in another Greek tug owner.
GMC signed a letter of intent to purchase 80% of port towage and offshore support company Zouros Group, which provides services in the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki.
Under the agreement, Zouros will continue to own 20% of the share capital and remain responsible for the tug fleet operations, together with GMC.
The transaction will also involve transferring four azimuthing tugs within the GMC fleet to Zouros’ management for port towage in Greece.
Combined, Rimorchiatori Mediterranei, Neri and Cafimar groups manage a fleet of more than 200 tugs, operating mainly in Italy, with a presence in other ports within the Mediterranean, Black Sea and South America.
Zouros provides harbour towage, offshore support, coastal towage and salvage services. It operates a fleet of 14 vessels with a combined bollard pull of 604 tonnes and 47,000 bhp.
The fleet includes six tugboats, five anchor handling tugs and three mooring and crew boats.
In May 2019, Scafi Societe di Navigazione (Scafi) purchased 50% of Greek company Vernicos Tugs & Salvage’s shares to form a new maritime entity – Vernicos Scafi Tugs & Salvage. This will operate a fleet of 70 vessels in the region.
The long-term strategy of that new company is to become a major player in the Mediterranean tug and salvage sector, while continuing to focus on operations in Greece and Italy.
Elsewhere, Rimorchiatori Riuniti group subsidiary Tug Malta took delivery of a new azimuth stern drive escort tug.
Vittoriosa was built by Med Marine at the Eregli Shipyard, Turkey, to a Robert Allan RAstar 3,000-W design specifically for LNG terminal operations.
In May, Tug Malta ordered a 14-m mooring boat, with bollard pull of 10 tonnes and speed of around 10 knots, from Med Marine for July delivery.
In Spain, ferry and tug owner Baleària added a new tug that complies with IMO Tier III emissions requirements. It acquired a stan tug from Damen Shipyards to support its ferry operations and emergency response in the Balearic Islands.
Rolon Plata II began operations in the harbour of Ciutadella, Menorca on 26 June 2019, to assist passenger and freight ferries into and out of the port.
This harbour tug was built to Damen Stan Tug 1606 E3 design with an advanced active emissions control system for Tier III compliance. This uses selective catalytic reduction technology to reduce nitrogen oxides by around 70% compared to a conventional vessel.
Baleària needed a low-emissions tug to operate in Menorca as the island is a biosphere reserve and tourist centre.
The owner has committed to increased sustainability in its operations, in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “This next-generation tug will be able to meet the needs of all operators, as well as being available for salvage and rescue in the area,” said Baleària general director of operations, Ettore Morace.
To achieve these additional environmental requirements, Damen outfitted Rolon Plata II with a fire-fighting system and oil recovery equipment.