Svitzer Americas plans fleet expansion to match growth opportunities within South and Central America, while overcoming Covid challenges
There is strong potential for growth in tug demand and towage in South and Central America that has major tug owners seeking further fleet expansion in the region.
One is Svitzer Americas, which plans to increase the number of vessels it operates in South America and the Caribbean from the existing fleet of 87.
Svitzer Americas managing director Arjen van Dijk tells Tug Technology & Business, “In my view, both terminal and harbour towage will grow even stronger in the years to come.”
“There is no doubt that as the infrastructure continues to develop in the region it will have a positive impact on the growth of some ports.”
“We are determined to pursue these opportunities and grow accordingly in selected countries and ports,” says Mr van Dijk. “We are here to grow, and our ambitions are high.”
These ambitions include expanding the regional fleet either through newbuilding investment or transferring tugs from other regions.
“As part of new tenders or new developments, we look at fleet expansion – one example being Brazil, where we see good potential and opportunities for expanding the fleet,” says Mr van Dijk.
“At the same time, we are constantly reviewing our fleet and adjusting it to match the needs of our customers.” This includes increasing power and bollard pull of tug fleets in terminals where ultra large container ships, very large ore carriers and larger gas carriers are berthing.
“When ports are developing and thus can receive bigger ships, it makes sense for us to look at upgrading or renewing the existing fleet,” Mr van Dijk explains.
“In Brazil for instance, we see improved infrastructure leads to better connections with the hinterland and consequently becomes the driving-growth factor in ports in the north eastern part of the country. At the same time, we expect exports of agro-bulk products and iron ore in countries such as Argentina and Brazil to remain strong.”
Svitzer already operates in Argentina, Brazil and the Caribbean. It provides marine services to bulk ports, mainly agro-bulk, and container ports such as Freeport in the Bahamas, Santos, Brazil, Caucedo in the Dominican Republic, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and others. In total it operates in 30 ports and eight terminals in 12 countries.
“When it comes to terminal towage, we service oil storage facilities as well as LNG terminals and our activities are spread throughout Central and South America as well as in Canada,” says Mr van Dijk. He says Svitzer has a competitive advantage in the region.
“Competition is fierce, but I firmly believe that our global ownership, presence and experience combined with indepth regional and local knowledge is an advantage,” he says.
However, there are operational challenges, not least the prevalence of coronavirus throughout the region, to overcome. Global recession followed the Covid-19 pandemic, impacting world trade and cargo flows. Resulting declines in oil demand led to falling energy prices, with lower oil prices having a particular impact on offshore industries.
“The towage industry has proven to be quite resilient,” says Mr van Dijk. “Even though volumes have been impacted, the impact has been less severe than forecast, which is positive. Towage continues to be a vital part of the global infrastructure, and as such, we remain optimistic about the outlook of the industry.”
Being part of a global group as large as Maersk has helped Svitzer overcome many of the business and operational challenges. “Up until now, we have been able to service our customers uninterrupted during the crisis,” Mr van Dijk explains, “and being part of Maersk has enabled us to collaborate with other brands to find solutions and align efforts to relieve crews across borders.
“However, we do see some clients facing difficulties in meeting their financial obligations, which of course is something that we are paying careful attention to.”
On the operational side, tug operators are challenged by national lockdowns and international travel restrictions, when “the human consequences quickly became very visible” he continues.
“Crew rotations have become extremely difficult due to travel restrictions – and finding solutions to relieving crews on prolonged stays has proved quite complicated as almost all countries have their own local restrictions and protocols,” says Mr van Dijk.
“At the same time, all onshore staff have been forced to work from home – I have colleagues who have been working from home for more than six months now and we do not yet know when some of our local offices will reopen.”
This has detrimental effects on mental health of personnel on vessels and onshore. “This situation has taken its toll on both shore and offshore staff and we are doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of our colleagues, both physically and mentally,” Mr van Dijk says. “Covid pandemic has forced us to think differently about how we work and collaborate.”
He is grateful for the dedication and commitment of Svitzer Americas’ 835 staff.
Svitzer Americas is looking to tackle the next long-term challenge to operations, limiting greenhouse gas emissions. “We are preparing to reduce our carbon footprint from operations,” says Mr van Dijk. “We are analysing local requirements and planning our contributions to reducing our footprint to meet national commitments which are part of the Paris Agreement.”
Again, being part of the Maersk Group will aid Svitzer in this endeavour. “We are collaborating with Maersk on the technical and economical assessment of means to reduce emissions and we expect to carry out tests on short-listed solutions within two to five years,” says Mr van Dijk.
Part of the effort to reduce emissions is training crew to optimise operations and lessen energy consumption. Svitzer Americas is committed to training local crews, and its operations contributing to growth and prosperity in the countries it operates within.
“That implies investing in training and upskilling local workforces,” says Mr van Dijk.
“We are working on further optimising cross-regional training, but in general we have centrally organised training modules that not only comply with the highest standards but also recognises regional and local requirements.”
Riviera is holding the Smart Tug Operations Virtual Conference on 1 December. Use this link for more details, programme and to register