Our towage industry faces considerable challenges in the 2020s from technology advances, environmental regulations and safety issues
Tug owners will face tectonic shifts in shipping and port trends in the next decade as both industries tackle climate issues and huge changes in global trade. They will influence investment in green power technology, whether alternative fuels or hybrid-electric propulsion.
Owners will be both challenged and invigorated by investing in digitalisation and remote monitoring technology, while naval architects will need to ensure their designs comply with new stability rules. Below are the top five trends impacting tug owners in the next decade.
Tackling green tectonic shifts
In the past decade tug owners have competed for towage contracts based on the power, manoeuvrability and bollard pull of their vessels. But in the next decade they will be competing on their environmental impact.
Ports and shipowners are under increasing pressure to reduce emissions and harbours will be key battlegrounds.
Being closest to public scrutiny, port authorities are increasingly influenced by perceptions on health and by national and international environmental regulations.
While shipping is still grappling with IMO’s sulphur cap 2020 rules, ports are looking to IMO’s 2030 and 2050 goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Ports are actively reducing sulphur and nitrogen oxides and particulate matter by propelling harbour users to minimise emissions. In the next decade they will be driven to invest in power points for vessel charging to open opportunities for all-electric or hybrid tugs.
Tug owners will need to react. They will need to invest in green tugs running on alternative fuels or even hydrogen and fuel cells. Or on tugs with hybrid propulsion including energy storage and quayside charging.
As environmental regulations and strongly driven guidance begins to bite, tug owners will need to recognise it is not business-as-usual.
Riviera Maritime Media has recognised this trend by introducing a series of conferences tackling the issues of Maritime Air Pollution for 2020.
Smart tug operations
Owners are increasingly using data to improve their operations, environmental performance and towage capabilitie, with ports also investing in data and applications to access these resources.
Tug builders are incorporating operational data collation and remote monitoring into their newbuilding packages and owners are starting to reap the benefits in understanding tug performance.
In the next decade this will be taken to new levels for smart tug operations, whether using the data for predictive maintenance or managing fuel and power consumption more effectively.
Digitalising tug operations will lead to optimisation and then to remote decision support to seafarers facing towage challenges daily. Pilot projects are already underway in Singapore and more can be expected in the future.
Tug Technology & Business will be discussing the trends and digitalisation challenges with owners in our series of Smart Tug Operations conferences, scheduled to be hosted in Dubai, Houston and returning to Singapore in 2020.
Going beyond monitoring and decision support, owners will be taking control of tug operations from shore. This trend started in 2017 and has accelerated in the last two years with consortia – including owners, class and automation system providers – challenging each other to remotely control tugs from shore.
Investing in shore-based remote control will improve tug operations by relieving some of the responsibilities on seafarers. Operators can remotely control tugs from shore to 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.
Remote control technology can also be used to test techniques and devices for semi-autonomous shipping. Tugs are ideal for these trials as they are highly manoeuvrable and constantly ready for service, although often waiting for the next towage job. Meaning, they are on standby but available for testing dynamic positioning and remote-control technology.
Naval architects have been privately battling to produce an optimal tug design that is powerful, manoeuvrable and cost-effective. Stability has also been a key requirement, and from January 2020 will be mandatory.
The arrival of ultra-large container ships has led ports worldwide to expand and driven tug owners to order or purchase more powerful escort and harbour tugs. Higher power needs to go hand-in-hand with improvements in tug stability to ensure they are not susceptible to girting and capsizing. IMO has addressed these worries.
Vessels including tugs carrying out towing and escorting operations delivered and designed from January 2020 will need to comply with amendments to IMO’s 2008 Intact Stability (IS) Code.
These amendments came from joint industrial project Safetug JIP that addressed one of the major concerns in the tug industry – their stability. The stability criteria developed by this JIP went all the way up to IMO and resulted in these IS amendments.
Designers will need to ensure their designs comply with these amendments and tug owners will need to be aware of power and stability requirements in their investment decisions in the 2020s.
Safety records and perception in the industry needs to be tackled by owners in 2020, as too many seafarers are injured or killed during daily operations. The industry is facing a significant problem in safety culture that needs to be addressed.
Tug crews encounter many difficult challenges in rough seas and inclement environments to ensure global shipping trade flows effectively. The vast majority of these operations are completed safely to the benefit of ship, tug and terminal operators. But occasionally seafarers end up in hospital or fail to return home at all.
From incident reports, it looks as if too many seafarers are following their own procedures and not the safest practices – resulting in injuries and fatalities. There seems to be a culture of heroically finding work-arounds and putting lives at risk by not always following correct and safe procedures.
In other cases, there may be a shortage of safety procedures and practices for seafarers to follow, or updates to older procedures that were written without the hindsight of lessons learnt from the latest incidents.
We hear of these incidents when they arise and less so of the daily success stories of tugs completing operations effectively and safely.
Recent reports into accidents in Europe and North America in 2019 have highlighted these safety issues.
The latest came from the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) in November 2019. MAIB reported the deadly safety issues with seafarers accessing tugs in ports and terminals where there are no dedicated facilities.
Even when there were procedures for safe access, seafarers on one tug in the UK were stepping from unstable fenders in all conditions. On one occasion one fell into ice-cold sea and died. Other incidents were recorded in 2019 concerning unsafe access to tugs.
In North America, Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigation into the capsizing of tug George H Ledcor on the Fraser River, British Columbia, uncovered the extent to which tug owners and operators are unaware of the dangers of girting and how to avoid a capsize.
These are just a few examples of safety issues tug operators need to address in 2020, there will be others, such as preventing rope- and towage-related injuries.
Tug owners have multiple challenges ahead in 2020 and beyond. From increasing pressure from ports to invest in green technology and reduce emissions; or from shipowners to reduce costs. From container lines to invest in more powerful tugs to manoeuvre ultra large container ships; or from terminals to handle the latest gas carriers.
From regulators to address safety issues and train crew to be more safety-aware; and from industry to adopt digitalisation and monitoring technology.
There are many uncertainties ahead, but one certainty is Tug Technology & Business will follow and present these trends through online publications, journals and our Smart Tug Operations conference series in 2020.