New tug simulator makes debut at West Coast training facility

By Gregory M. Walsh 

Pacific Maritime Institute in Seattle has developed a training program incorporating what it said is the only full-scale marine simulation program in the United States developed exclusively for tugboat operators.

PMI’s marine simulation theater, designed as an actual tugboat wheelhouse, includes full controls for tractor-style tugs and conventional tugs, simulation programs involving typical tugboat scenarios and a realistic 42° vertical field of view projected onto a 20-foot screen. Transas Group developed the simulator.

The tug simulator, developed in a cooperative program with Sause Bros. Ocean Towing of Coos Bay, Ore., first went into operation in June. Other companies involved with the PMI tug simulation programs include Foss Maritime, Crowley Maritime, Dunlap Towing and Western Towboat.

“It’s the only one in the country designed to simulate an actual tugboat,” said Gregg Trunnell, director of PMI, which functions as the West Coast branch of the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS) near Baltimore. “Most other simulators are what we call full-mission simulators, offering a wide variety of training scenarios using a theater resembling the bridge of a ship with a distant horizon. With those you always have to spend a certain amount of time convincing your participants into believing that they are actually aboard a tugboat.”

The simulator is unique in that it has an unprecedented vertical field of view, Trunnell said, as well as a 330° horizontal field of view.

Sause, which operates its own training center at its base in Coos Bay, is the inaugural participant in a two-year PMI program in which its own trainees are studying to become licensed tugboat mates with guaranteed jobs at the end of their training, according to Doug Eberlein, Sause’s personnel and training director.
“This new program helps us to recruit qualified and motivated crewmembers, and it helps the young mariner move ahead in an accelerated way with very little investment except time,” said Eberlein.

Sause is actually financing the training of its first four “cadets” with a forgivable loan program tied to work guarantees and on-the-job training, as well as classroom and simulator training at PMI.

The company estimates it will invest close to half a million dollars in the education and training of licensed mates over the next couple of years, according to Eberlein.
Greg Brooks, a maritime consultant frequently involved with the training of tractor tug crews, said the new PMI tug simulator is unique because of its vertical field of view that allows a participant to look down onto the deck of the simulated tug, and because of the nature of the wheelhouse and controls. “We’ve been making do for a long time with inappropriate theaters,” he said.

PMI traces its roots back to the launch of the Pacific Northwest Radar School in the 1970s. The institute was reopened as a MITAGS unit in 1997 and relocated to its current facility in 2004, offering a variety of training programs including full-mission bridge simulation.

When the institute reopened in 1997, 90 percent of its clients were deep-draft ship operators, said Trunnell. Today the client mix has changed so that 80 percent of trainees are involved with the towing industry.

Trunnell said he has been working with MITAGS on development of a dedicated tug simulation facility on the East Coast with similar training programs. Workboat operators across the country are reporting difficulty recruiting licensed crewmembers.

PMI’s tug simulator in Seattle includes programs for cycloidal drive, z-drive and both twin-screw and single-screw applications. The simulator can be used for training in bridge resource management, communications, tug and barge handling, towing, ship docking, escorting, emergency procedures and other applications.

Plenty of dynamic tugboat companies behind boom in U.S. tug construction
Among the many companies building new tugs at U.S. shipyards this year, there are interesting and inspiring stories of business investment, local strategy, shipyard talent and design preference.

One such story is that of Signet Maritime, a Texas company founded by Barry Snyder. Signet has been forging ahead with acquisitions, expansion and, this year, with an aggressive newbuilding program that will result in the introduction of two very capable and powerful tractor tugs.

Snyder, 63, a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy who shipped out with Texaco for a decade or more, has been active in the Texas tug and barge scene for three decades since he and a group of investors founded Bulkfleet Marine in the 1970s. The Bulkfleet name was later changed to Signet Maritime in the 1980s. In 1998, after Snyder and his partners divested themselves of the well-known 8,000-hp tugs Valiant and Victory along with a pair of deep-notch petroleum barges, Snyder went on his own, keeping the Signet name for the purchase of the former Gateway Tugs Inc. in Brownsville, Texas. More recently, in 2003, Snyder and his wife Gayle, then sole owners of Signet, acquired Garrett Marine, operating in the Ingleside and Aransas Pass area of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Today, Signet is a fast-growing company with, according to Snyder, more than $50 million invested in acquisitions and capital projects and with a growing market share of business on the south Texas coast.

“We’re blowing and going down here, let me tell you,” said Gayle Snyder, a Texas native with a University of Texas business degree. “This area is becoming the rig capital of the Gulf, and servicing the movements of rigs is a core element of our business.”

The Snyders have acquired 25 acres for a waterfront base in Ingleside, and dramatically boosted the size and quality of their tug fleet with the acquisition of two z-drive tractor tugs. Signet currently operates 19 tugs and barges along the Gulf Coast. The company’s new waterside property is on the five-mile long La Quinta channel, an area targeted for a new container terminal as well as construction of at least one LNG importation terminal. Signet, with more than 60 full-time employees and offices in Houston, Ingleside and Brownsville, provides harbor tug operations, deep-ocean drilling support, heavy-lift barge transport and break-bulk/project cargo shipping.

Most recently, Signet has contracted for the construction of a pair of 6,220-hp, Robert Allan-designed tractors to be constructed over the next year at J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding in Tacoma, Wash. (That gives you an idea of the backlog at U.S. shipyards — a south Texas tug company has to build new tugs in the Pacific Northwest while the Gulf Coast is loaded with capable shipyards, all too busy.)

“It takes a fair amount of confidence and bravado to be carrying on like this,” said Barry Snyder. “But we are established now in two of the best deep-water ports in Texas, both poised for progress in an excellent growth environment. Our company has grown beyond our expectations, and we are all very proud of what has been accomplished.

 ”We owe a great deal of this success to the team of people with whom we have been associated for all these years,” Snyder continued. “You can talk rigs and tugboats, but in the end it’s a people business. We take very good care of our people, and that always comes back to benefit the company in the end.”

Corpus Christi is a fast-growing port about 100 miles south of the Houston-Galveston area, while Brownsville, another 100 miles south, is the last deep-water port before the Mexican border. In Brownsville, Signet is the primary provider of tug services. In the Corpus Christi area, G&H Towing is the primary ship-docking company, while Signet is focused mostly on the Ingleside area along the La Quinta Channel and waterways leading out to the Gulf through Port Aransas. When its two new tractors are delivered in 2007, Signet will base one at Ingleside and the other at Brownsville, according to Snyder.

For this year, Signet has added a pair of z-drive tractors to its fleet and the company has been sending its crews to California Maritime Academy, working with tugboat consultant Greg Brooks on the training program as well as on the design of the new tugs.

In 2005 the company arranged a long-term charter with option to purchase the 4,200-hp z-drive tractor Frontier (new in 2004) from Harley Marine. The vessel, renamed Signet Challenger, is currently flagship of the Signet fleet. Before that came the long-term charter of the 3,000-hp conventional twin-screw tug Janet Catherine (new in 2004) from Seward Services in Key West, Fla. Signet acquired another z-drive, the former Belle Watling, a 70-foot, 1,200-hp vessel formerly operating in Jacksonville, Fla. It has since been renamed Signet Volunteer after undergoing upgrade and refurbishment.

As if all this were not enough, the company also has a 70-foot pushboat under construction at the John Bludworth Shipyard in Corpus Christi.

Assisting with rig movements along the Gulf Coast makes up close to 50 percent of Signet’s business, according to Snyder, while ship docking accounts for about 35 percent. A growing portion involves movement of oil barges for customers throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

“Right now the big story with us is that we have just committed to construction of these two new tractors, each with about 80 tons of bollard pull,” said Snyder. “We’ve been researching these boats for more than three years, and I have assurance from the designer that they will be the two most technologically advanced tractor tugs operating in the United States.”

Versatility is the design theme with Signet’s new tractors, according to Snyder. “These tugs need to be capable of working with some of the largest rigs ever built, perform escort service as well as conduct LNG tanker operations, and to handle very large crude oil tankers and bulk carriers as well as oceangoing petroleum barges.”
The two new tractors will be powered by MTU/Detroit Diesel engines linked to Niigata z-drives. Total horsepower rating is expected to be 6,220 with up to 80 tons of bollard pull.

Through the use of reduction gears, Niigata can apply the full 2,000 rpm from each engine, thus the continuous horsepower rating of 3,110 per engine is achievable, according to Snyder. The tugs will be FiFi-1 rated with firefighting capability in excess of 10,000 gpm. Deck gear will include Markey ship-assist winches.

Foss expands
to East Coast
Foss Maritime Co. has completed its acquisition of Constellation Tug Co., which operates in the Boston area.

Foss, which is based in Seattle, said it will add two z-drive tractor tugs to the Constellation fleet by the end of the year.

Foss, a unit of Marine Resources Group Inc., reported in mid-July that it had agreed to acquire the equipment, assets and trade names of Constellation Tug Co., which will soon change its name to Constellation Maritime Co. Constellation has been operating in Boston and neighboring ports in eastern Massachusetts with four conventional tugs and three barges. Foss plans to charter two 4,000-hp conventional tugs to operate in Boston until the arrival of the z-drives.

This will be Foss’s first operation based on the East Coast.

Also operating in Boston is Boston Towing & Transportation, with two recently built z-drive tugs and a total fleet of more than a dozen tugs. LNG tankers arriving in Boston are currently handled by Boston Towing’s tractor tugs that were partly designed for that purpose.

One of the tractor tugs to be sent to Constellation will be a new Dolphin Class tug rated at 5,080 hp with over 60 tons of bollard pull.
The newest Dolphin Class tug delivered from Foss’ Rainier, Ore., shipyard is the 78-foot Revolution, which completed its first commercial job in San Francisco in late June.

Revolution, fourth in the Dolphin Class series, is currently assigned to the AmNav fleet in San Francisco. AmNav is also a subsidiary of Marine Resources Group, which is a unit of Saltchuk Resources Inc.

The fifth tractor tug in the Dolphin Class series, which is due out in December, will be dispatched to Boston. In order of appearance so far, the four tugs in this class are Mikioi, Morgan Foss, Campbell Foss and Revolution. Foss expects to build a total of nine tugs in this class. They are designed by Robert Allan Ltd., which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

E.N. Bisso plans new tractor fleet
E.N. Bisso & Son, one of three primary tug companies in New Orleans, is adding to the competitive pressure there with plans to build a series of z-drive tractor tugs at Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Panama City, Fla.

A pair of 4,000-hp tugs with 50 tons of bollard pull is expected to be delivered toward the end of 2007, according to Walter Kristiansen, president of this century-old, privately owned tugboat company. Two other large tug companies operating in New Orleans are Bisso Towboat and Crescent Towing. Bisso Towboat has two ASD tractors operating in New Orleans, while Crescent has one in New Orleans and two in Savannah.

 ”We’re looking to continue upgrading our asset base,” said Kristiansen. “We see this as part of a five-tug program, but, realistically, you’ve got to build them one at a time.”

The last new tug built by E.N. Bisso was the 3,900-hp Vera Bisso, an innovative tug with conventional propellers in nozzles with two steering rudders and four flanking rudders. The 105-foot vessel, introduced in 2000, has a traditional main deckhouse topped by a unique wraparound wheelhouse with modern controls.

A significant motivator in deciding to upgrade the E.N. Bisso fleet is the accelerated depreciation facilitated by the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, enacted after Hurricane Katrina, according to Kristiansen. “A program like that can create some real savings for those who are faced with making investments like these,” he observed.

The new 96-foot, Robert Allan-designed Bisso tugs will be Caterpillar powered with Rolls Royce z-drives, John Deere generators and Markey hawser winches.

Construction on the first new tug is expected to begin in January. There are currently 16 tugs in the E.N. Bisso fleet.

Dann Marine builds new towing vessels
Dann Marine Towing of Chesapeake City, Md., is demonstrating that not everything in the tugboat world is all about the so-called tractor tugs. Dann, with an existing fleet of 15 conventional tugs, expects to take delivery in September of the first of a pair of 104-foot, twin-screw wire-towing boats under construction at Rodriguez Boat Builders, Bayou La Batre, Ala.

These 3,000-hp Cat-powered towing vessels are designed with an elevated pilothouse providing a 50-foot height of eye with full controls and electronics for handling the newest double-hull oil barges in use by Dann’s East Coast customers.

“These tugs are going to fit right in with the niche in which we operate,” said J.C. Dann, vice president of operations of the family-owned company. “Whether it be moving coal or oil or handling dry-bulk barges, we basically took the best features from all of our boats and incorporated them into these new tugs.”

The new tugs, with Cat 3512B electronically controlled diesels, Reintjes gears with internal shaft brakes, stainless propellers in nozzles, a Nautican triple rudder system and Intercon double-drum towing winches, were jointly designed by Dann’s in-house staff and the builder.

Vane Brothers of Baltimore, which is building a fleet of 55,000-barrel oil barges, is a primary customer of Dann Marine Towing.

Dann’s existing fleet of tugs, ranging from 1,100 hp to 4,200 hp, provides barge handling services both inland and coastwise on the East and Gulf coasts. The company also has available its own fleet of 260-foot dry-cargo barges. The company has tugs based in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chesapeake City, Md., and Norfolk, Va. 

Categories: Licensing & Training, Tugboats & Towing