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Back From Amsterdam: The Tugnology ’09 Summary

Tugnology ’09 Summary

The 2009 Tugnology Conference in Holland is over and your two MTVA delegates are safely back aboard their tugs. The conference was a real eye-opener as to how some things are done differently in the EU and other parts of the world. A vast amount of material was covered in the 2-day period as well as a large number of cocktail receptions and complimentary meals sponsored by MTU – Detroit Diesel, Samson Rope, DAMEN Shipyard and SANMAR Ltd.

 The strongest impression that we took home with us was how closely all the industry stakeholders worked together and traded ideas, something sadly missing from the U.S. towing industry. The regulating authorities, harbormasters, industry trade groups and tug captains all work together toward improvement in their industry without spending millions on lobbying, litigation and constantly fighting one another off. Can anyone imagine the Coast Guard and AWO earnestly and enthusiastically sitting down at the same table with a group of working tug captains, mates, and engineers, presenting and listening to each other’s ideas on a level playing field, in a climate of mutual respect? Nobody’s perfect, but what we saw at Tugnology ’09 was much, much closer to that ideal situation than anything we’ve ever dreamed of over here.

 It also seems that in some other ways we’re our own worst enemy. One representative from a marine insurance company that we spoke with explained how they try to avoid U.S. maritime like the plague because of the level of litigation and bullshit involved in dealing with U.S. customers. Is this surprising?

 Overall, the U.S. is probably 5 – 7 years behind Europe in many areas including emissions reduction, training standards, equipment and vessel-design advances. Interior crew space noise levels in Europe are restricted to the 60 dB range on tugs, leaving most people’s hearing intact and allowing for better quality rest. Still, the average age of crews at Smit Maritime in Rotterdam is 54 years old, leaving no doubt that the personnel shortage is as pervasive overseas as it is here in North America. But it appears that we inadvertantly did do our part here in the U.S. to advance things with the Exxon Valdez Spill: it was actually responsible for much of the push worldwide to develop the technology used in today’s escort tugs, winches and indirect towing methods providing steering and braking forces not previously possible in the towing industry.

 We will touch on some of the key points below and the 15 conference papers presented will be available on the MTVA website soon with the hope that some of these will stimulate interest and varying opinions from mariners. Please drop us a note with your thoughts as they come up while reading these interesting papers.


Meeting the new emissions standards is not simply an option, and the compliance deadlines in 2012 and 2014 will leave many operators in the lurch if they don’t take steps now to adapt. Interestingly, many countries are using the system and standards developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a model and are moving forward with adapting them for themselves. Conversely, the U.S. appears to be slower at implementing this E.P.A. model despite the fact that we developed it. While the slogan “going green” has a nice ring to it, and potential PR benefits, following through with some of the changes has proven difficult in many cases. Some emissions equipment such as exhaust scrubbers will require an additional 2% more fuel for the same amount of power output in order to overcome the back pressure on the exhaust. Shore power, or “cold ironing”, will also be a requirement soon, yet it is something the U.S. has been slow to embrace. Some urban areas with serious air pollution problems, such as the Los Angeles metro area, have moved forward but the rest of the country lags way behind.


The need for formal training to safely operate the more powerful and high-tech tugs is becoming more apparent as these vessels are being developed. The price for failing to do this has been demonstrated in some court cases where the companies were deemed negligent for not providing adequate training programs after training-related accidents have occurred.

 Resolution 8 of STCW 1995 states that “A seafarer must not only be qualified to fulfill an operational role on board a vessel but also be competent to perform the assigned role “. To be compliant with a formally-accredited and audited QA (quality assurance) system such as ISO 9001 requires stringent adherence to specific training requirements and the documentation of that training in company records. Consultants recommend that 15% – 20% of a vessel’s crew should be in training at any given time. If vessels are being operating with bare minimum crews this is going to be impossible.

There are a number of complex and interacting reasons for the industry-wide personnel shortages, many of which are beyond the industry’s control. But by reducing crew sizes on towing vessels we’ve significantly helped to induce our own manning shortages. Operating with a minimal crew for generations has reduced the traditional pool of sailors to choose from whom are trying to find a way to work up through the ranks and develop a background in the industry.


While simulators certainly have a place in the training regime, it is generally accepted that there is no simulator-trained tug master that can board an omni-directional tug and competently undertake towage/assist operations without significant additional onboard training. Some simulators have developed a high degree of realism, yet they also help demonstrate why actual onboard training is a necessity. As more complex programs are developed into the simulators the expectations are more demanding and other shortcomings are becoming more obvious. Including various dynamics like the pressure field that creates stern suction and bow cushion into the programs is one of the big challenges. While the need for simulators in training programs is obvious the emphasis on an adequate period of onboard training prior to assuming unsupervised watches was also expressed.

Training Tugs:

Since it is generally cost-prohibitive to utilize a tractor tug for the full amount of live training that is needed to develop competent masters and mates, the model ASD (azimuthing stern drive, or reverse tractor) tug of 26 ft. is being considered as a good alternative. This vessel would not require a towing license, yet it could have an important role in training future operators onboard in real-time while recovering some of the cost associated with vessel time. Ron Burchett is developing this concept and we hope to see a mini-ASD tractor in the field for training soon.

Escort / Assist Winches:

With the lions share of new-builds being developed for tanker escorts and LNG carrier assistance at offshore terminals, the performance of the escort/assist winch has been advanced considerably. These modern rend/recover, constant-tension winches have exposed new issues with line wear that were never considered previously. With the line actively working through the bull nose the heat generated by friction externally can be water cooled, however the internal heat from individual strands working against each other has created a new challenge. Markey Machinery has developed a roller bull nose to address the external friction. Options for reducing the internal friction are still absent.

Ship Lines:

Twists in the headline can represent a 5 to 40% reduction in strength because of the way the strands pull and rub against each other. Samson Rope will begin placing a colored tell-tale strand in their line to make any twists readily apparent. Their new loose-lay braided chafing gear has also proven to reduce headline wear by over 20%.

Workplace Safety:

Most man overboard (MOB) accidents result from simple slips, trips and falls. Recovery is often hampered first by the rest of the crew not even knowing that an MOB has occurred, and second by the subsequent difficulty or inability to locate the MOB. The new MobilAlarm beacon is active while personnel stay within range of the receiver and triggers an alarm when the person goes out of range or manually sets off the alarm. This represents a huge advancement in rapid-alert technology because it eliminates the problem of an alarm not activating in the water. The transmitter is always active until the sensor leaves the area. This life-saving technology will probably show up on U.S.-flag vessels only after it is required by regulation. However, some U.S. court cases have established the principal that if a technology is readily available (and in use) that could have helped to avoid a disaster or save lives, even if it’s not required by law, a vessel operator may be considered  negligent and held liable if it isn’t used and what is deemed to be an avoidable casualty occurs.

Total Tug Monitoring:

This is an advancement which will allow for closer monitoring of the many electronic systems onboard a tug. While some resistance is natural from onshore and onboard, all parties will benefit from more detailed and accurate information being communicated. Mechanical issues could be detected and diagnosed before becoming catastrophic and preventative maintenance could be more simply scheduled and observed. Many onboard systems now utilize electronic sensors and the consolidation of the information into one program will inevitably lead to more efficient operations and fuel savings.

Working Mariner Participation:

Captain Mike Link and myself were the only actively-working tug captains from the U.S. that we found at the conference, even though the 270 delegates present included a wide range of mariners from other pa