Another new ATB for Great Lakes service; tug Victorious is second unit for McAsphalt


A frequent visitor to the Marathon Oil refinery in Detroit this year is the new articulated tug-barge (ATB) unit operated by Canada’s McAsphalt Marine Transportation Ltd. This combination consists of the 5,300-hp tug Victorious and the 70,000-barrel heated asphalt barge John J. Carrick. Together they represent the newest ATB unit operating on the Lakes.

(Photos courtesy McAsphalt Industries)

These two vessels are the second ATB unit to be owned and operated by McAsphalt Marine Transportation Ltd. The company’s first such combination was the tug Everlast, purchased from European operators, and the barge Norman McLeod, built in 2002 for McAsphalt in China.

The newest McAsphalt tug and barge were both built at the Penglai Bohai Shipyard in Penglai City, China. They made their delivery run across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal in late summer 2009, then taking on a load of asphalt in Louisiana for delivery to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

After operating for a few months at the end of last year, the pair spent the winter hunkered down in Montreal, then came out for an initial 2010 cargo at the end of March. First run of the new season: It was back to Detroit to pick up about 70,000 barrels of hot asphalt from the Marathon Oil refinery. From Detroit, Victorious headed east to the Saint Lawrence River and then continued east to deliver her cargo to waiting asphalt tanks on the East Coast of Canada.

The barge John J. Carrick was designed and built specifically to haul cargos of asphalt, typically heated to temperatures as high as 350°F. She also regularly loads other black oil cargos, mostly of the heated variety like heavy fuel oil.

It is the carriage of asphalt, in part, that makes this barge unique because of the high transport temperatures. Carrick can also carry heavy fuel oil (bunker oil) typically heated at temperatures between 120° and 140°F.

“These much hotter temperatures influence many aspects of design and construction,†said Roy Hickingbottom, head of marine marketing for McAsphalt, a private company based in Toronto, Ontario. “Construction differences include allowance for expansion and contraction of the double-hull systems, plus we have two one-million BTU thermal cargo heaters, and it’s a hot oil heating system, and the pumps and cargo lines all have to be heat traced while everything is generally set up for a much hotter product. But other than that it’s your typical double-hull barge.â€

When unloading cargo, the barge’s pumps can move asphalt or oil at the rate of 6,000 barrels per hour.

Victorious and John J. Carrick are somewhat unusual in that they are joined by the Articouple articulated coupler system, which is made in Japan and not often utilized in North America. The system is similar to the Intercon or JAK coupler system except that the rams that protrude out from the side of the tug are hydraulically powered.

The choice of coupler system was dictated by the presence of the same system on the barge Norman McLeod and the tug Everlast. The company elected to go with the same Articouple system so that both tugs and barges could be totally interchangeable. “That may not have necessarily been our first choice in this new situation, but we really did not look at another system because of the advantage of having the same system on both of these ATB units,†said Hickingbottom. “Now we can have either tug handle either of these barges and that has got to be positive news for our clients,†he added. For enhanced maneuverability and underway efficiency, the new barge is equipped with a bow thruster while the tug has controllable pitch propellers.

Another unique aspect to John J. Carrick is its distinctive ship-shape bow, as opposed to the more traditional spoon-shape bow on the older McAsphalt barge. The barge itself is about 410 feet long with a loaded draft of about 22 feet. Since she is a regular visitor to the East Coast and will often make trips to East Coast ports in Canada and the United States, her designers felt she would be well served by a ship-like bow.

“The spoon-shaped bow on the Norman McLeod actually works pretty well for us,†said Hickingbottom, “but we found that when we were operating off the East Coast in winter we were getting a lot of ice buildup from freezing spray on the bow and on the forward sections. Sometimes we would get massive buildup of ice on the bow. So with the new barge we decided to go with the ship bow and a bit of flare to the forward sections that might throw the spray out and possibly make her more efficient in the water.†The barge Norman McLeod has made East Coast runs as far south as Wilmington, N.C.

McAsphalt has its own terminal and storage facility in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, within the Port of Halifax, as well as elsewhere.

The company’s newest tug, Victorious, is a bit unusual in that it burns heavy fuel oil with a pair of 6M25 MaK engines producing 5,300 hp as its main power source. The company reports that the only engines burning regular diesel fuel are the barge engines for cargo pumps, and the tug and barge gensets. When operating in loaded conditions, the tug burns an average of 14.5 tons of IFO 380 fuel per day, according to company specifications. In reasonable weather she can maintain an average service speed of 10 to 12 knots and is designed to stay connected to her barge in sea conditions as high as 26 feet, according to specifications.

Although the tug does not look like a capable ocean-going tugboat, she is equipped with a towing bar across her stern, capstan and heavy emergency hawsers. In keeping with Great Lakes practice, the tug has a stern-deployable anchor while the barge has a ship-style anchor at its bow.

In profile, Victorious actually resembles a small ferry, or one of the Integrated Tug Barges that are still operating in U.S. waters, including some on the Great Lakes. She has her house set amidships, with elevated side plating amidships and forward and five levels above the main deck, including a ship-like bridge with port and starboard bridge wings. The tug itself is 123 feet overall length, while the combined tug and barge have overall length of 500 feet. The tug was, in part, designed by Fisher naval architects.

While the company ordered new engine equipment from MaK/Caterpillar, because of availability problems for some other gear, complete drive trains including reduction gears, propeller shafts and propellers were extricated from a retired Canadian government ferry and then shipped to China after being thoroughly refurbished by Rolls-Royce. High-performance folding or flap rudders were obtained from the German company Becker Marine Systems.

The tug operates typically with 11 crew, many of whom double as barge crew. The captains and mates as well as others are all certified tankermen, and all cargo operations are under the supervision of the chief mate. The barge itself is unmanned. The tug always sails with a full-time cook.

McAsphalt Marine Transportation, which owns and operates both of these ATB units, is a joint venture between McAsphalt Industries, and Upper Lakes Group, both Ontario-based companies with far-reaching activities. Upper Lakes Group owns and operates a large fleet of Great Lakes bulk freighters. The company also owns and operates two industrial fuel suppliers, both of which are in part supplied by these two tugs and barges.

The tug Everlast is 137 feet in length with 6,000 reported hp. The tug was built in Japan in 1976 and purchased by McAsphalt from Greek owners in 1999, soon after being paired up with the new barge Norman McLeod.

Curiously, it was Everlast and her barge that operated through most of this past winter on the lakes, whenever ice conditions would permit, while Victorious sat idle in Montreal. In general, according to Hickingbottom, winter work either involves moving asphalt out of the Detroit refinery to storage facilities on the lakes, or moving asphalt on coastal routes from refineries on the East Coast to clients in the Northeast or mid-Atlantic areas.

McAsphalt Industries is a dominant company in the Canadian asphalt and paving industry.