Ultratug’s new chief executive provides a summary of its growth strategy
Chile-headquartered tug and offshore support vessel group Ultratug is planning its fleet renewal and operations growth in the Americas.
It already operates a large fleet of 70 tugs, 23 platform supply vessels, four anchor handling tug supply vessels, two pusher tugs, five barges and four pilot boats in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Some of these are operated through joint ventures with local operators, such as Coltugs in Colombia.
Ultratug operates in more than 40 ports and terminals around Latin America. Its new chief executive Cristián Lyon expects the company’s operations to continue to grow and its fleet to be renewed going forward.
“Our main growth efforts are in the Americas, so any opportunities related to our scope of services is in our interest to explore,” he tells International Tug & Salvage.
“We have a specialised business development office located in Panama looking for opportunities in Central America and in the Caribbean. Also, our country offices are permanently analysing and sharing growth alternatives in the region.”
Ultratug’s fleet assists a diverse range of vessels including container ships, bulk carriers, cruise ships, navy frigates, gas carriers, roro vessels and tankers up to very large crude carriers.
“We are mainly involved in harbour towage, with coverage in more than 40 ports in seven countries in Latin America,” says Mr Lyon. “Also, for many years we have had important exposure in supporting specialised terminals for oil, gas and coal cargoes in most countries where we operate, accumulating great experience and knowledge,” he adds.
In Chile and Argentina, Ultratug focuses on escorting, berthing and undocking gas carriers in LNG terminals and in Uruguay it provides inland water transportation services.
The average age of the harbour towage fleet is 13 years, with a some of the older assets ready to be released, and much of the fleet built since 2000.
“We are in the process of selling old assets, but are carefully analysing the fleet-renewal plan,” explains Mr Lyon. “We have acquired a couple of secondhand tugs to replace old tonnage.” It purchased 2012-built tug Sea Salmon this year from Malaysia-based Ritz Marine and renamed it Sangay.
Mr Lyon does not mention any imminent plans to order newbuild tugs to renew the fleet but did say the company was interested in reducing emissions through new propulsion technologies.
“New greener engine technologies, for zero or less emissions, are today either available on the market or in development stages, and we are following them closely to choose the right one,” says Mr Lyon.
He says some of the growth opportunities in the region can be implemented through Ultratug’s joint ventures in various countries. “We are always looking for growth either organically or inorganically,” says Mr Lyon. “In that sense, mergers and acquisitions are always an option. We have partners in five of the eight countries where we operate, these are valuable assets to us.”
This includes Wilson Sons Ultratug Offshore in Brazil, Transfluvial Navegacion in Uruguay, Japina in Ecuador, Petrolera Transoceánica in Peru and Coltugs in Colombia.
Ultratug provides emergency response around South America with assets strategically located, including a bunker barge based in Punta Arenas, Chile, which can be used for oil spill clean-up. The company’s vessels are equipped with skimmers, oil spill detection devices, contention barriers, dispersant sprayers, portable generators, compressors and fire-fighting systems for FiFi1 class.
“Ultratug, as member of the International Salvage Union, has been recognised as an important and reliable player in special operations such as salvage, towing, fire-fighting and terminal maintenance,” says Mr Lyon.
“In 2019, our Chilean division acquired anchor handling tug supply vessel Lenga to provide a wider scope of special operations and to support Antarctica bases.” This is based in Punta Arenas, a strategic port near the tip of Chile’s southern-most region and on the Strait of Magellan.
“Inland water transportation is also an important activity in which we have experience and see growth opportunities in the future,” says Mr Lyon.
Ultratug is not only keeping up to date with propulsion technology. It is also investing in software and digitalisation to improve fleet operations and vessel efficiencies.
“We are making an effort to be more cost-efficient,” says Mr Lyon, “therefore we are rethinking processes. Implementing smart software is helping us to achieve that goal.”
For example, Ultratug is applying Helm Connect’s software on vessels operating in two countries, with more to come. “And we are involved in software pilots for port-operations optimisation and bunker-consumption reduction,” he adds.
Increasingly, tug owners are required to invest in software to improve their competitiveness in operations and services because of the challenges of operating in tough markets.
“Markets are very competitive today, making revenue increases through higher rates a very difficult task to obtain,” says Mr Lyon. Ultratug differentiates itself from competitors through commercial and operational interaction between countries and crew training.
“Either you differentiate your services to capture more value from the market or you work on reducing your cost structure to preserve healthy and reasonable margins,” he explains.
In the offshore sector, Ultratug also must cope with fluctuations in demand due to changes in oil prices and energy company expenditure. It operates a fleet of 23 platform supply vessels in Brazil.
Cristián Lyon was appointed chief executive in April 2021 after being head of Coltugs, Colombia since 2017
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