Svitzer commercial director for terminal towage Alan Bradley explains how environmental and regulatory challenges can be overcome
Operating tugs devoted to handling gas carriers at LNG terminals in Asia brings growth opportunities but comes with business and technical challenges.
Owners in this sector hold long-term contracts for terminal towage services providing stable business as they seek to expand into other countries. However, there are strict domestic rules to comply with, crewing challenges to overcome and challenging environments to operate within.
Maersk subsidiary Svitzer has chiselled out a strong role in Asia as its tugs support LNG carriers at export and import terminals from Russia to Bangladesh.
Svitzer Asia cluster managing director and commercial director for terminal towage Alan Bradley says growth in LNG production, import and transportation in the region will generate new contracts for tug owners.
“The growth opportunities are often in the new energy sector in emerging markets where the demand on power is increasing to service domestic and industrial growth,” he tells Tug Technology & Business. “Where clean energy solutions are seeing the proliferation of LNG import terminals.”
Mr Bradley expects opportunities in China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam as new LNG import facilities are built.
“Svitzer is committed to growth opportunities in Asian marine services,” Mr Bradley continues. “We are particularly interested in supporting our customers and joint venture partners to grow both organically in their current markets, but also to expand into new geographies.”
Svitzer operates a fleet of 32 vessels in the Asia cluster, including terminal and harbour tugs, line-handling workboats and a multipurpose offshore support vessel. These are stationed in Russia, China and Bangladesh.
“We are always on the lookout for other opportunities in the region, where we can add value by delivering safe and reliable marine services in often challenging or isolated environments,” says Mr Bradley.
These environments do not get much tougher than operating in Sakhalin Island, Russia. Svitzer provides marine operations in ice-bound seas at Sakhalin Energy Investment Co (SEIC)’s LNG production and export terminal with four Robert Allen-designed TundRA series, ice-breaking tugs.
“We have experience of doing difficult things in difficult places,” says Mr Bradley. “In the Asia region, our operations are often challenged by rough, and sometimes extreme weather conditions – ranging from breaking ice in Russia to navigating monsoons, tides and strong currents in Bangladesh.”
Svitzer secured a long-term contract extension from SEIC to support mooring more than 1,800 gas carriers until November 2032. Along with two mooring vessels, Svitzer operates four 34.5-m long multifunctional vessels built for escorting and manoeuvring LNG carriers all year round. These tugs are designed to break 85 cm of ice covered with 20 cm of snow at a speed of 3 knots.
In Bangladesh, Svitzer operates escort tugs, line handlers and a multipurpose vessel at Excelerate Energy’s Moheshkhali LNG floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU).
Svitzer operates tugs in China at LNG import terminals under joint ventures with Qingdao Ports Corp, Yantian Port Group and Cenertech, a subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Co.
Challenges and solutions
“Our geographic spread and diversity of operating conditions means we can transfer this knowledge and experience as we enter new operations and address the challenges our customers are facing,” says Mr Bradley.
These include safe gas carrier manoeuvring and berthing within specific loading schedules. “Safety and timeliness are crucial to our customers and it is our obligation to ensure we deliver on our promise, even under very challenging conditions,” says Mr Bradley.
“We have the advantage of having skills and knowledge gained over our long history in the towage industry.”
This experience enables Svitzer to find technical solutions to overcome the environmental challenges.
“Our customers require the skills of an operator familiar with the cargo and capable of providing unique assets and operational experience that work in this environment,” Mr Bradley explains. “We have a proven track record of being able to build the vessels required.”
There are often difficult regulatory conditions and tight project deadlines to meet when tug owners are tasked with providing escort and mooring support to gas carriers.
“When operating in a multitude of countries within the region, it is important we are aware of legal and compliance requirements,” says Mr Bradley.
Svitzer works closely with clients, partners and local stakeholders “to ensure we understand all requirements and maximise the benefit to the countries we work in.”
This can include cabotage and localised crewing rules. Which is why Svitzer has joint ventures in China, and Russian crews on its Sakhalin Island tugs.
“With localisation we are bound by national laws or customer requirements to employ local crews or use local suppliers,” Mr Bradley comments.
“Where qualified crews are not immediately available, we work with local authorities and institutions on localisation plans to ensure we assist in training and upskilling and thus ensure future employment opportunities locally.”
In this way, Svitzer strives to contribute to the local economies where possible. In Russia, it employs 58 Russian crew members and nine onshore support staff in its terminal operations. It has been providing towage services to the Sakhalin-II project since 2007.
“We have the ability to source and train both crew and the shoreside management teams required to deliver safe, high-quality services on time,” says Mr Bradley. “We commit to the communities where we operate.”
Svitzer Asia operations
Tug services vital to northern Europe terminals
Port operator representatives recognise the importance of towage services for seamless terminal operations. Port of Antwerp UK and Ireland representative Justin Atkin says marine services are vital for efficient and safe terminal operations.
“Tugs are part of strong and efficient ports,” he tells Tug Technology & Business. “Efficient and technology-enabled marine services are integral to our operations. We need to ensure marine services, with more opportunities, are part of robust port operations.”
These services are part of Port of Antwerp’s drive to become an integrated and intermodal hub with ports globally and shortsea links in Europe. “We are a gateway and a one-stop-shop with barge, road and rail connectivity,” Mr Atkin says.
Tug services are also important to operations in Port of Tyne. Its chair Lucy Armstrong says marine services are part of safe operations in ports in northeast England. “We need adequate tug services as larger ships are berthing at ports,” she says. “Tug services need to be factored in when planning services from the beginning.”
This includes modelling port operations and ship handling requirements during planning stages and discussing safety with marine service providers. “Safety needs to be open collaboration, to together work for the future,” Ms Armstrong says. “We need to improve communications and add value services to our customers.”
Tugs are integral to these services, while investments should include emissions reduction technologies. “We need to be innovative – ports need to be technology leaders and enablers in supply chains,” she says.
British Ports Association chief executive Richard Ballantyne says tug crews are vital to improving terminal operations’ safety. “They are key workers and it is important to get safety equipment to these people,” he says, adding “investment in safety, environment and people skills” are vital to UK port operations. “We want to be leaders in this,” he says.
UK Major Ports Group chief executive Tim Morris agrees it is important to invest in marine services and people. “Ports need to be smarter, greener and invest in skillsets for tomorrow,” Mr Morris says. “Strong ports are active partners in supply chains, sustainable and engaging with stakeholders.” This includes tug owners and marine service providers.
UK Major Ports Group is a trade association representing 40 ports in the UK and 75% of seaborne trade volumes.