Tug owners are coming under increasing pressure from authorities and port operators to reduce their environmental footprint without affecting safety and performance
On top of this environmental pressure, owners also need to invest in digitalisation technologies and test technologies for remote operations to improve safety.
Overriding all these trends is a maritime industry working under the shadow of coronavirus, which has caused considerable changes and challenges over the whole sector.
Here are the five key trends that will impact tug design, construction and operation of towage services in 2021.
The environmental footprint of tug operations and towage will be in a brighter spotlight in 2021, with more ports requiring owners to demonstrate their green credentials.
Port authorities providing their own towage assets will also be looking at ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution. Tugs are seen as increasingly part of the whole port ecosystem with requirements to stop NOx, particulates and eventually CO2 output.
Legislation has come into force from IMO to reduce NOx, SOx and particulate matter emissions from marine diesel engines.
IMO Tier III compliance means in most cases selective catalytic reaction devices are installed to remove pollutants, which requires consumption of urea and more maintenance. This is similar to US Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 4 compliance requirements and to new legislation coming in China.
But for some, this does not go far enough. Which is why alternative fuels are being considered and tested.
Port of Antwerp is one of the forerunners in alternative fuel investment and testing with trials of methanol- and hydrogen-fuelled vessels planned in one of Europe’s busiest ports.
This was described in depth by Port of Antwerp technical manager Celine Audenaerdt during Riviera’s Alternative fuels for powering a tug: the selection conundrum webinar in September 2020, which was part of the Tug Techonology Webinar Week.
She said investment in retrofitting three port service vessels to use methanol was part of the EU-funded Fastwater project. This will involve upgrading an inland/harbour tug, a pilot boat and coastguard vessel.
In addition, Port of Antwerp is a partner in the Hydrotug project with CMB.Tech and Anglo Belgian Corp, to develop a hydrogen-fuelled harbour tug.
CMB.Tech is developing Hydrotug as its largest hydrogen-fuelled vessel with 65 tonnes of bollard pull. It will have two 2-MW medium-speed engines and 400 kg of compressed hydrogen storage.
To enable this development, Lloyd’s Register awarded an approval in principle to BeHydro to develop a hydrogen-powered dual-fuel engine. Progress on all of these alternative fuel projects will progress in 2021.
In Singapore and China, emphasis has shifted to constructing and operating LNG-fuelled tugs. PSA Marine senior manager for fleet engineering Jeffrey Sim explained why it invested in LNG-powered tugs and its challenges. He presented PSA’s experience of bunkering harbour tugs PSA Aspen and PSA Oak in 2020 with LNG.
In China, Ningbo Zhoushan Port has also gained LNG bunkering experience with dual-fuel tug Yong Gang Xiao Tuo 60. This 750-gt tug was built to a Robert Allan RAstar 3800-DF design by Jiangsu Zhenjiang Shipyard, delivered at the end of 2019.
There will be more orders for LNG-powered tugs, mostly for east and southeast Asia in 2021 as owners gain further experience of LNG bunkering.
In Japan, owners have built experience in operating LNG-fuelled tugs, with NYK Line owning 2015-built tugboat Sakigake in Yokohama and Kawasaki ports.
NYK is going further by using this experience to test one of the world’s first ammonia-powered tugboats, with partners classification society ClassNK and IHI Power Systems. This project will progress to a construction phase in 2021 ready for testing after completion.
Investing in alternative fuels could be a step too far for many owners, with most selecting an electrical route to decarbonisation with motors for hybrid propulsion and batteries for energy storage.
There will be further investment in hybrid tugs and electric-powered vessels in 2021. One of the eagerly awaited deliveries is New Zealand’s Ports of Auckland’s Sparky.
This is a Damen-designed reverse stern drive (RSD) tug with electric propulsion systems for zero-emissions towage. Constructed to an RSD-E Tug 2513 design, it has an overall length of 25 m and around 70 tonnes of bollard pull. It was launched from Damen’s Song Cam Shipyard in Vietnam in December 2020 and should be in operation in Q4 2021.
It is not the first fully electric harbour tug in operation. Gisas Shipbuilding Industry began operating electrically powered Gisas Power at the beginning of 2020.
This 18.7-m tug was built at TK Tuzla Shipyard in Turkey to a Zero Emissions Electric tug (Zeetug) design by Navtek Naval Technologies.
Istanbul-based Navtek general manager Ferhat Acuner explained the technology on Gisas Power during Riviera’s Maritime Hybrid, Electric and Fuel Cell Webinar Week and Tug Technology Webinar Week in Q3 2020.
There are plans to build more Zeetug30 design tugs and larger Zeetug-design vessels in the future. Other port authorities and tug owners could follow in 2021, with Port of San Diego in California intending to order an electric-powered escort tug in 2021.
No forward viewpoint of 2021 could ignore the elephant in the room – the impact of coronavirus on maritime operations, product demand, port activities and seafarer morale. Worldwide economies and trade have been thoroughly devastated by Covid-19 and all of its various variants and strains.
Coronavirus has challenged tug owners in 2020 by changing towage and port docking requirements and by preventing crew changes. It also challenged shipyards in their tugboat deliveries and mobilising vessels between continents and countries.
With the approval and introduction of vaccines, there is at last hope for an eventual return to some form of normality.
But before the world can get to that place, there will be many more bumps along the way. For example, emergence of a new virulent strain in the UK, resulting in the temporary closure of maritime borders and port disruption. Mutations mean the virus is potentially on a pathway for vaccine escape, which could set back worldwide efforts to bring this global pandemic under control.
However, vaccines should prevail and by mid-2021 there will be fewer travel restrictions, rising global demand for maritime transportation and need for ship handling services. By then many tug crews will be inoculated and able to move between countries, ports and vessels.
Remote control tugs
There is a growing trend in developing and testing remote control and autonomous vessel technology on tugs and other workboats.
This trend started in 2017 and has accelerated in the last three years with consortia – including owners, class and automation system providers – challenging each other to remotely control tugs from shore. Some have gone further and trialled autonomous navigation technology in ports.
Owners are recognising the potential benefits from these trials. Investing in shore-based remote control will improve tug operations by relieving some of the responsibilities on seafarers. This technology could also remove crew from danger during emergency support and fire-fighting.
Operational time during transits between harbours can be reduced to ensure crew are rested, refreshed and ready for towage services in the next port.
There have been multiple trials around the world in 2019 and 2020. The latest are in Japan where NYK and Japan Marine Science collaborated on two research projects with Japanese Government backing to trial remote navigation and collision avoidance on vessels including a tug in Tokyo Bay.
In Singapore, PACC Offshore Services Holdings (POSH) is pushing the autonomous technology boundaries for harbour tugs. It has successfully trialled autonomous navigation and artificial intelligence (AI) innovations on ship-handling tug POSH Harvest in partnership with ST Engineering during 2020.
POSH Semco general manager for global operations Captain Priyadarshan Pandey confirmed the successful trials will continue into 2021 during Riviera’s Offshore Support Journal, Asia virtual conference on 2 December.
In the Netherlands, Kotug International passed a new milestone in autonomous vessel navigation in September 2020 with a successful demonstration using a training harbour tug. It tested smart navigation on RT Borkum training tug in Rotterdam, being the first vessel in the world to autonomously sail the most optimal route in a port setting.
More trials and demonstrations will be coming in 2021 as owners reach for the ultimate goal – enabling autonomous vessel operations. Dutch tug operator Herman Senior will upgrade one of its vessels with autonomous navigation to improve operational safety using remote-helm control system from Sea Machines Robotics.
Tugs are ideal for these trials as they are highly manoeuvrable and constantly ready for service, although often waiting for the next towage job making them available for testing dynamic positioning and remote-control technology.
Smart tug operations
Digitalisation technologies have enabled tug owners to increasingly use data to improve their operations, environmental performance and towage capabilities. Coronavirus has accelerated adoption of digitalisation across the maritime industry, including in towage.
Ports are also investing in data and applications to access various resources including tug dispatch and pilotage.
Data packages are enabling tug builders and naval architects to improve tug design and construction, while owners are starting to reap the benefits in understanding tug performance.
During 2021, digitalisation will be taken to new levels for smart tug operations. More owners will use data for predictive maintenance or managing fuel and power consumption more effectively.
This will drive optimisation across the port services industry and provide remote decision support to seafarers facing towage challenges daily.
Riviera Maritime Media highlighted some of the latest developments in digitalisation, vessel optimisation and communications during its webinar weeks and virtual conferences in 2020.
Riviera’s events programme is set to continue in 2021, kicking off with Offshore Webinar Week on 19 January 2021. There will be virtual conferences covering technologies to prevent maritime air pollution and developing hybrid propulsion systems and LNG bunkering during Q1 2021.