Crowley modernizes with new tugs and expanding barge fleet


Among the many new-construction programs at Crowley Maritime are introduction of a dozen new heavy-lift barges, such as the one at left.

Crowley Maritime, the 100-year-old company with strong roots in the West Coast maritime industry, is involved in several new-building projects that transcend short-term economic conditions, even though many aspects of its day-to-day business were undoubtedly hindered — or at least softened — by the recent recession.

In simultaneous construction programs, Crowley is involved in construction of a dozen 450-foot heavy-lift barges, five additional super-sized articulated tug-barge (ATB) units, and the first two of what could become wholesale replacement of its famous Invader class of tugboats.

All told, the construction program is reported to be costing something close to $800 million for a company that has better than $1.5 billion in sales, according to its financial reports.

Official plans are for construction of as many as 13 of the high-capacity barges by 2013. The new barges are largely replacing older members of Crowley’s fleet. The new barges, seven of which have already been introduced, are 400 feet long with beam of 105 feet. They have cargo capacity of better than 4,200 pounds per square foot of deck space. The eighth unit of the series was expected to be delivered in late May.

All of the barges thus far have been built by Gunderson Marine shipyard on the Columbia River, in Portland, Ore. Barge 455-8, was the 45th barge built for Crowley by Gunderson. Two of these barges were used during the summer of 2009 to transport massive pieces of equipment for BP Exploration from the Columbia River to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The total cargo weighed 6,234 tons, according to Crowley. These barges, according to Crowley reports, have almost two times the carrying capacity of its existing barges and double the deck strength.

It should be no surprise that those two heavily-loaded 455-class cargo barges were towed to Alaska by two members of Crowley’s Invader-class of tugboats, most of which are nearing retirement age (see photo of tug Gladiator). Among the big projects in the works for this aggressive company are construction of the first two of a new class of tugs that could — this is enthusiastic media anticipation — become replacements for the Invader tugs.

The first two of the Ocean class of tugs are currently under construction at Bollinger Shipyards in Louisiana. These are 10,880-hp twin-screw vessels measuring 146 feet overall with beam of 44 feet and draft of 21 feet. With Caterpillar power and twin controllable-pitch (CP) propellers they are designed to produce up to 150 tons of bollard pull and to support a 15-knot free running speed. Needless to say these Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)-rated tugs will be loaded with equipment to support a variety of missions, including FiFi-1 firefighting capability. The first two are planned for delivery in 2011 and 2012.

The new tugs are designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle, Crowley’s in-house branch of naval architects, and by Crowley’s existing staff of designers and engineers. The design calls for a range of better than 12,000 miles with tankage for 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

One of Crowley’s newest ATB units, Pride, makes its way down a busy ship channel.

As SOLAS-rated vessels with lots of fuel tankage, the tugs will be largely double bottom with double-chine hulls. The four-bladed CP props will be in nozzles with a single high-lift rudder behind each nozzle.

Crowley’s 25 existing Invader-class tugs, all built on the Gulf Coast in the 1970s, are long-proven performers in open-ocean conditions. They have low-profile superstructures and deep, round bilges below the waterline. All the Invader tugs have 20-cylinder EMD-645 engines rated at 3,600 hp each. These 136-foot tugs also carry 155,000 gallons of fuel with loaded drafts of 20 feet.

Don’t look for those Invader tugs to start disappearing any time soon, however. Crowley spent better than $30 million refurbishing all 25 tugs in 2002 and 2003 and the company then said the improvements could extend their working lives by 15 years or more. As part of the refurbishment program the tugs had their engines, gearboxes and generators removed and rebuilt, while interior spaces, wheelhouses and exterior hulls were completely refurbished and upgraded. The tugs were originally built for Crowley between 1974 and 1977 by J.R. McDermott & Co.

While the new Ocean-class tugs are under construction at the Bollinger yard in Amelia, La., just down the coast a ways are the latest ATBs for Crowley, being built at two different VT Halter Marine shipyards in Mississippi.

The latest to be introduced is Achievement and her matching barge 650-8. This is a 134-foot, 10,700-hp tug put together with an 185,000-barrel oil barge — the two of them connected by an articulating coupler system that allows the tug to be mechanically attached in the barge notch, but still to be free to pitch independently of the barge.

It was just a few years ago, in 2001, when Crowley did not have a single ATB combination in her sizable fleet. Today, however, we can see that the company will have 20 such units, possibly more, within a few more years. The last of these to be built, in 2013, will also be among the largest ATB units to be working in the U.S. Jones Act oil trade.

For the present, however, Achievement and her barge are large enough. The barge alone is 587 feet in length, as large as most medium-size tankers. When loaded, she can carry 27,000 tons of cargo in 14 individual tanks, each with its own deep-well pump. Other ship-like features include engines that burn heavy fuel, dual, hull-mounted anchors, and a dual-mode inert gas system for all cargo tanks.

Crowley still has five more tugs to build in its current ATB series. That includes two more of the same size as Achievement, and then three jumbo units with 148-foot, 16,000-hp tugs and 600-foot barges capable of carrying 330,000 barrels of product.

In theory, all of Crowley’s ATB tugs and barges ought to be interchangeable, but as each class of vessels becomes larger and more powerful they tend to lose their compatibility, much like diverting species of creatures that have become ‘different’ to the point that they can no longer mate.

Since the first Crowley ATBs were introduced in 2002, their lengths will have increased from 126 to 148 feet. Similarly, the barges, by the time the last one is introduced in 2013, will have increased from 490 feet to 600 feet.

Achievement and her barge were christened in Tampa, Fla, not far from their place of birth. The choice of Tampa as the christening port was made, according to Crowley, because this ATB unit is expected to be in Tampa roughly once each week as it carries petroleum products under a contract with Marathon Oil Corp.