Hawaiian company building last of its Tiger tugs


P&R Water Taxi, a privately-owned, entrepreneurial tug and workboat company based in Honolulu, Hawaii, laid down the keel of the last of its series of near-identical ship-assist tugs in late April, this one to carry the memorable name of Tiger 11.

(Photos courtesy P&R Water Taxi)

This company, which took over the servicing of U.S. Naval vessels at Pearl Harbor close to a decade ago, has grown to the point where it has at least one tug in every major Hawaiian port and has become a substantial competitor for ship-assist work in the state’s major port, Honolulu.

P&R Water Taxi, operator of the Tiger tugs in the Hawaiian Islands, is the sole provider of tugboat services for the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor.

P&R, owned by a former Boeing engineer, Charley Pires, and a business partner, Ed Morris, has built 10 tugboats so far at its own shipyard near downtown Honolulu. The 10th, still under construction, is expected to be placed in service later this summer, while Tiger 11 will slide down the marine railway in early 2011, if all goes according to plan.

Tiger number 11 will likely be the last one for a while,” said Mark Delventhal, manager of the company’s shipyard. “After that we will probably be gearing up for the move to a different shipyard and that move in itself could generate some new opportunities for us,” he added.

At the state’s urging, the company is moving towards relocation to a different shipyard location, away from its current address at Kewalo Basin, which is designated for loftier purposes, according to Delventhal.

P&R reportedly built the first tug in 100 days in 2002, when it heard that the Navy was seeking bids on a fourth ASD tractor tug to service ships at its Pearl Harbor base. At the time, the primary contract for Pearl Harbor work was held by a division of Great Lakes Towing with several of its then-new ASD tugs, Z-One, Z-Two and Z-Three. P&R, with its first Tiger tug, won the contract for a fourth tug for Navy work and, shortly after, became the sole provider of tug and workboat services for the Navy at Pearl Harbor. The company is now midway through its second five-year contract for those same services, with four Tiger tugs permanently stationed at Pearl Harbor and two or three others equipped and ready for substitute work at a moment’s notice.

Tiger 11 and several others before her, are not directly intended for Pearl Harbor work.

The Tiger tugs are all 94 feet long with 4,400 hp generated by Caterpillar diesels and (mostly) HRP ASD thrusters. The company experimented on a few of the tugs with z-drives from Thrustmaster of Texas, but soon went back to HRP.

Charley Pires, left, and Ed Morris, partners in ownership of P&R Water Taxi.

On the surface the tugs are nearly identical, but some changes over the years include a modernization of fendering, elimination of underwater fendering and raising of the forward-most bulwarks with additional fendering. All of the tugs, except for two, have hawser winches forward and towing winches aft provided by a small, private company in Louisiana owned by H. Gale Fox.

“We do some towing around the ports, but it’s not really a major service” said Delventhal. For at least some of the tugs, however, the Navy does require both hawser winches and towing winches. The towing winches are required for use when tugs make up to submarine hulls, to ensure a tight connection and eliminate risk of damage to the submarine hull.

All of the Tiger tugs have near-identical wheelhouse arrangements, with Furuno radar and nav packages, with Garmin chartplotters, Caterpillar power and HRP propulsion controls.

The company was called upon to tow several barges offshore earlier this year after warnings were raised about possible Tsunami waves following earthquakes on the west coast of South America.

“Everyone wanted to get all their gear out of the harbor,” said Delventhal. “So we picked up some barges and took them out a few miles and then ended up waiting for nothing to happen.”

All of the tugs also have 3,000-gpm firefighting capability with diesel-driven Aurora fire pumps and dual Elkhart fire monitors positioned just forward of the pilothouse.

For a short time the company built its tug pilothouses out of steel, but soon went back to building them of aluminum, typically left unpainted.

Fendering on the latest tugs comes from Schuyler Rubber Co., with simple D-shaped fenders around most of the hull, but with a combination of loop fendering, cylindrical fendering and D-shape fendering covering most of the bow, which has been raised about two feet. The newer tugs, those that are not likely to be involved with Navy work, do not have underwater fendering in an effort to improve through-the-water efficiency.

The company derives about 50 percent of its revenue from Navy work, with the balance coming from commercial work in various ports, according to Delventhal. In the Hawaiian Islands, the company competes against Hawaiian Tug & Barge with five ASD tractors plus other tugs, and against Sause Brothers with two ASD tractors plus other tugs. Another sizable tug company in the port is Smith Maritime, a unit of K-Sea Transportation, which is not heavily involved in ship-assist work.

P&R anticipates that its most recent tugs, with enhanced crew accommodations and greater fuel tankage, might get involved with towing barges around the islands and other expanded opportunities.

P&R presently employs about 80 people, including 25 shipyard workers and roughly 50 maritime workers.