Newest Crowley oil barge features dual anchors for use at offshore terminals

Crowley Maritime continues to break ground in barge design and equipment with its newest 587-foot articulated tug-barge units, the first of which was christened in April.

The 185,000-barrel barge, 650-1, is equipped with dual anchors for use at offshore oil terminals near the California coast. This system was installed at the request of ConocoPhillips, which has chartered the new vessel for three years. The dual anchors allow the barge to connect with the seven-point mooring systems at each offshore berth. The barge will deploy both port and starboard anchors, while connecting to some of the seven available fixed mooring points.

Oil barges have come a long way in recent years. It was just a few years ago that some oil barges were cruising our coasts with no anchors at all. The standard setup on barges that do carry anchors has been a large Danforth-style anchor fastened to a large slide at the bow with an all-wire rode leading back to a deck winch. Such an arrangement would accommodate the old-fashioned scow bows that were standard on most barges.

But Crowley’s new ATBs, the first of which were introduced in 2003 with single anchors, have ship-shaped bows that accommodate a ship-like anchoring system. The latest version has a pair of 5-ton anchors housed on each bow with 10-shot chain rodes running through hawsepipes to Intercon anchor windlasses and chain lockers in the forecastle.

650-1 also offers a dual-mode inert-gas system with vapor recovery that is also a relative rarity aboard U.S. oil barges. “We first used these to provide customers with better choices,” said Ed Schlueter, vice president of Vessel Management Services, a Crowley subsidiary. “But it has worked so well that we are using the inert-gas system with almost every load.”

The barge’s machinery includes an oil-fired boiler and inert-gas generator that are separate from the vessel’s heating system for keeping the cargo warm, according to Schlueter. Common aboard all tankers, the system works by piping a layer of inert gas into the empty space of each tank so that the air contains less than 5 percent oxygen and is thus too lean for combustion. The amount of oxygen can be measured by hermetically sealed sensing devices.

This next item has got to be a first, at least for barges: 650-1 has a remotely operated, constant-exchanging ballast system designed to reduce the introduction of “invasive” waterborne creatures to ports through normal exchange of ballast water.

“You can be constantly exchanging the ballast water while still at sea,” explained Schlueter. “That way, when you arrive at a place like San Francisco or Seattle, you don’t have the problem of what to do with your ballast water.”

With a constant exchange of ballast waster beginning in the open ocean, none of those creatures would be hitching a ride for more than a few hours, and the ones in the tanks when the barge arrives at its terminal might have just come on board a few hours before.

The remote part of the system means that all of its machinery and piping can be operated from the barge’s central cargo control station.

On the tugboat end, Crowley reports that later tugs in this series, presumably beginning with Gulf Reliance, due out later this year, will switch from Caterpillar to Wärtsilä main engines that can burn heavy fuel oil. The next tugs will also be larger — up to 135 feet from the current 127 — and they will have slightly increased tankage for fuel — up from the current 160,000 gallons.

“We are simply making this switch as a defense against the rising cost of fuel,” said Schlueter. “With the price of fuel just going up and up, we came to the conclusion that we should do something about that by switching to the less-expensive heavy fuel.” The new engines will burn what is called an IFO-380 fuel oil, he added.

Tug building boom

It’s incredible how many new tugboats are under construction or just about to be. As of mid-April, at least 30 new tug projects were slated for completion in late 2006 or 2007. With a few exceptions, these are all z-drive ship-assist tugs or large articulated tug barge units (ATBs) for petroleum transportation.

Two observations about the 15 or so tractor-style tugs being developed: First, roughly half a dozen of these are being built for potential work at LNG importation terminals. Second, the list of new tug projects (See sidebar) includes not a single cycloidal-drive tug, which bolsters the argument that most American tug operators just don’t care for cycloidal propulsion technology, and even the most demanding customers are not requiring it.

The current order book of at least 30 new tugs for harbor and coastwise service does not include construction contracts for inland towboats, the brown-water vessels that far outnumber the domestic fleet of harbor and coastwise tugs.

“There are certainly a lot of people building boats of all kinds,” said Jonathan Parrot, president of Jensen Maritime Consultants, the naval architecture firm in Seattle. “Beginning this winter and spring, we’ve had very strong interest from people getting ready to build tugboats.”

Jensen Maritime, with its history in fishing boats and workboats of all kinds, has a large piece of the market for new tug-design work, particularly on the West Coast. At present, Jensen is involved with new tug projects for Seabulk Towing, BayDelta Maritime, Express Marine, Smith Maritime, Western Towboat and others.

“I can hardly keep up with fulfilling requests for bids,” said Brandon Durar, president of JonRie Intertech, a manufacturer of towing winches and ship-assist winches for harbor tugs. “The way I see it, a lot of this new building is energy related, with companies keeping an eye on future business in LNG, coal and oil in various parts of the United States,” he said.

Bollinger Shipyards of Louisiana, which builds barges, tugs and workboats of all kinds, reports that its current backlog extends to the end of 2007. While Halter Marine, based in Mississippi, reports that it has a similar backlog of new-building contracts including orders for five additional 185,000-barrel oil barges, each with a new 9,000 hp tug, from Crowley Maritime.

K-Sea fleet growing

K-Sea Transportation Partners just keeps growing and aggressively modernizing its fleet, which is devoted entirely to the transportation of petroleum products.

Big news from K-Sea in the last year is the acquisition of an ATB unit operating in Canada on the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. This move, which required creation of a new company, K-Sea Canada, involved acquisition off the 4,400-hp tug William J. Moore (ex-Alice A.) and the 95,000-barrel barge McCleary’s Spirit from McKeil Marine in Ontario. While K-Sea now owns the unit, it is still operated by McKeil, carrying refined oil products in that region of Canada.

“This enables us to expand our operating presence up into the Great Lakes and may lead to some more growth opportunities in that region,” said Richard Falcinelli, vice president of New York-based K-Sea.

William J. Moore and its barge were converted to the Bludworth connection system several years ago after McKeil acquired rights to that coupler system from its creators in Texas. Since K-Sea also operates the tug Lincoln Sea (ex-Everett), which has an Intercon coupler system with its dedicated oil barge, this means that the company now operates three different kinds of connection systems. The majority of the K-Sea fleet that is ‘articulated’ makes use of the JAK coupler system.

Also in 2005, K-Sea acquired Sea Coast Towing, Inc., of Seattle, a move that now gives it a presence on the U.S. West Coast as well. Sea Coast operates 15 tugs and 15 barges with total carrying capacity of 705,000 barrels, which represented a 27 percent increase in K-Sea’s fleet at the time.

But it’s difficult to keep track of this fast-moving company that also acquired a Norfolk-based operator the year before. At last count, K-Sea’s total fleet, including units in Canada and the West Coast, came to 40 tugs and 58 barges plus two venerable old coastal tank ships servicing New England coastal ports. Roughly 72 percent of K-Sea’s fleet of barges was double-hulled as of early 2006. K-Sea’s tug-barge units are also frequently sighted in the Gulf of Mexico where the company has operations through long-term charters.

Since the company first went public in 2004, it has invested more than $160 million in fleet expansion and has completed two separate additional equity offerings.

In other news, K-Sea is the first to install a new reduced size coupler system introduced by JAK. The company is busy retrofitting some of its mid-size tugs, like Houma and Davis Sea, along with new 28,000- barrel barges, with this new system. Intercontinental Engineering (Intercon) has also been marketing a relatively new, smaller ‘C’ size coupler system to its customers.

“We’re trying to focus more on upgrading the middle and smaller end of our fleet now, having addressed the larger end in recent years. Now we’re looking at the OPA 90 replacement issues with these smaller tugs and barges,” said Falcinelli.

The tugs Houma and Davis Sea are smaller tugs in the 2,000-hp range that deliver oil barges for customers in the New York area. Typical applications might be destinations in the small Long Island ports of Inwood and Glenwood, which are similar to Rockaway Inlet in being shallow and exposed with narrow channels.

Four new barges being constructed by Bollinger Shipyards will be matched up with Houma and Davis Sea, and possibly other tugs for New York regional work, according to Falcinelli.

“These are manned barges,” said Falcinelli, “so with them we’ll be getting away from the one-tug, one-barge relationship that you see with the larger units. Because they are manned, they are more interchangeable with different tugs. The tankermen are always there and the various tugs can go off to do other work while a barge is loading or unloading. That way you’ve got continuity of all systems on the barge and it provides better service for the customer.”