Tug operators are falling back in love with tractor tugs, as new vessel orders show, says Martyn Wingrove
When I took over the role of editor of Tug Technology & Business in 2016, it seemed that every newbuilding tug on order had either an azimuth stern drive (ASD) propulsion system, was part of an articulated tug-barge (ATB) unit or was of a different design style, such as a Rotortug.
It seemed no one was building tractor tugs, which provide manoeuvring and docking traction for vessels lacking that ability.* They were out of fashion.
Along comes 2019, and the tractor tug is back.
It seems some tug owners have reviewed their fleets looking at demands on harbour tugboats and realised they need to order new tractor tugs instead of ASDs to balance the fleet’s performance.
Sanmar projects director Ali Gurun acknowledged the trend at this year's British Tugowners Association conference in April in Liverpool. He said Sanmar built 19 ASD tugs in 2016 and 21 in 2017, but just one tractor-type. In 2018, the business built 13 ASDs and five tractor tugs. It has orders to build at least another four tractor tugs this year, including two for Bukser og Berging in Norway, one for Rimorchiatori Riuniti in Italy and another for an unnamed owner.
Mr Gurun indicated there had been a renaissance in tractor tug newbuilding orders because owners want to see benefits in power and performance. That is not to say that these features do not accompany other tug designs, but the tractor tug has advantages over other tugs in certain harbour conditions.
According to Peel Ports, tractor-type tugs have rapid response times due to the fast pitch changing of the blades and “are excellent for dangerous operations”.**
According to another tug design expert pitch changing blades work the same on ASD’s Tractors, Rotortugs, Eddy tugs etc.
In conclusion, there has been a turnaround in tractor tug orders, and I cannot see a course reversal any time soon.
As owners make commercial decisions based on forecasts of future harbour and coastal towage requirements, some will see the need and place orders for tractor tugs, as well as other types of tug, keeping builders and designers busy into the next decade.
Additional information and more stories on tractor tugs
*Italian tug owner Rimorchiatori Riuniti describes a tractor tug as one that would be used for manoeuvring and docking traction for vessels lacking that ability.
We also featured 25-m harbour tug Kinaki, which was the first of a new series of tractor tugs designed by Robert Allan and built by Sanmar for Port Taranaki in New Zealand. In Q3 2018, it became one of the most powerful and advanced tugs operating in the nation’s harbours. Svitzer has also introduced tractor tugs to its UK fleet.
Tractor tugs have also been built in the US. We profiled McAllister Towing’s latest powerful escort tractor tugs, such as Rosemary McAllister, in 2018. More of this series are scheduled for delivery this year.
In our latest orderbook and completions roundups, we identified other tug builders constructing tractor tugs to order. Drydocks World Dubai shipyard secured an order in Q1 2019 for a 27-m harbour assymetrical tractor tug, from P&O Reyser, for operations in Barcelona, Spain.
Boluda Corporación Marítima expanded its fleet in the Canary Islands to 19 vessels with the addition of tractor tug VB Tamaran this year.
Even when the complete tractor tug type is not used for newbuildings, some of the operational characteristics of Z-drive tractor tugs are incorporated in new tugs. This is the case for a series of 10 tugs that Gulf Island Shipyards is building for Bay Houston Towing Co and Suderman & Young Towing.