To an outsider an ATB is a bean counters answer to crew levels and regulations and I thought the same when seeing a tug towing a barge with a crawler crane and about 350 teu containers onboard moving at 8 to 9 knots off Vancouver. Typically a small feeder ship carrying the same number of containers would be moving at 14 knots with a crew of 9 burning 12 tonnes of IFO with most maintenance undertaken by the crew and two cranes. The ATB and barge belonging to Bouchard looked to be well maintained but who maintains the barge and I mean not just decks etc., but the pump room and Fire fighting equipment?Would it have a bow thruster?
I’ve always marveled at the difference in the level of manning, training and license required to navigate a 900’ ship compared to what’s required to push 1200’ feet of barges packed with life threatening chemicals through the local neighborhood waterway.
Barge crew maintains the systems, Captain is technically responsible. As far as deck maintenance goes, there isn’t any chipping going on unless that thing is gas freed. Just Degrease and add another layer of paint until yard period. At least that’s what I remember. Also you can move multiple barges with the same intercon system and get in push gear or move on the hip at least with the smaller units which is most of Bouchard’s fleet.
Those large 1200’ tows you refer to are incredible navigators in our nations rivers. It is not for the weak hearted. Most have the crews to support the unit. Many become river pilots. They have my deepest respect.
I’ve never seen a 1200’ tow with 22 crew.
Rarely chipping/painting. slap some paint on it and call it good, it’ll get sandblasted in the yard anyways. No pumproom, no bowthruster. Never worked bouchard, but we had CPP’s with decouplable rudders. easy to work with one tug up forward on the barge. ATBs have a lower capital cost, lower useful life than a tanker. Makes less sense to care about the maintenance when stuff is done at the yard and you can build a new unit cheap.
Being one of the resident ATB operators, I can unequivocally state: The ATB are built solely for raising efficiency, lowering P&I insurance and eliminating the tow wire connection. This ALL is marketed to the majors. There are several other benefits of ATBs. Interchangeability of Tugs, lower crew costs, faster ‘ship speed’ and more efficient cargo handling.
When OPA’90 made the majority of the operators new build it seemed a ‘no brainer’ to look forward to ATB technology versus going back to the tow wire instead.
Many companies have tried to ‘hang on’ to the tow wire concept. I have a hard time believing any reputable oil major actually hires wire boats. Anywhere.
I’ve worked around them and agree.
I really respect the skill of those handling ATB’s in the confines of rivers and waterways and their punishing work schedule. Is the barge manning seperate from the tug manning. Once in the past I was tasked with investigating a ATB setup with three barges loading timber. Back then the lock system was unable to cope with the sea conditions that it would encounter in service but that was some time ago.
Sometimes the barges are manned, sometimes they are not. Really depends on the company. If the barge is unmanned, the tankermen are actually AB’s on the tug with designated duties as PIC’s on the barge. In that case, they would sign the DOI, but the tug captain retains overall responsibility of the entire unit. If the barge is manned, then the captain of the tug is absolved of those responsibilities and thus liability.
There is also a crossover COI - more common these days - that identifies the barge as “Conditional Occupancy”. That type of COI is still unmanned, but designated as such so that crew are permitted to transfer to the barge to carry out “discretionary activities” when sailing beyond the boundary line (at sea). Those activities are limited to simple tasks like general preventative maintenance but stops short of saying that the barge has to be manned in order to carry out it’s functions while at sea.
“Unmanned” there is usually 2x tankerman and a “2nd mate”. No bow thrusters, assist tug just about everywhere you go. Limited firefighting capability, 1 large bottle, couple regular extinguishers. 90% of the wheelhouse crew wanted NOTHING to do with the barge, guys who had a PIC would have it removed just to prevent them from going over. 2nd mate normally was the 1st man under the bus when something major happened.
“Manned”… well then you get the term “Barge Captain” …
Sause bros is a top tier west coast tug company that tows oil, and thrives with wire boats.
I still think the concept of atbs being safer is debatable, but thats just me. There are some atbs out there that are absolute junk and i have heard enough horror stories of popping out of the notch to be completely neutral on the subject.
There’s a few atbs out there with bow thrusters. Assists everywhere you go has more to do with the charterer and local pilots…
There was a big kerfuffle about this a few years ago. The opinions seem to vary depending on the users experience. Speak generally, ship guys look at them as undermanned Jones Act beaters. Tug guys look at them as the next evolution of tugs that can still operate independently and can be underway in much bigger sea conditions with more control.
I ran CE for many years on one of the early ATBs, the dreaded SEA SKIMMER/PLAQUEMINE. I do know one thing, we had a fairly large crew for an ATB. There were three of us in the engine department (not at first, though - I had to push for an extra engineer). We had two tankermen/ABs for the barge, two mates and a Captain, Two ABs and and OS and one cook. No pumproom to maintain, as the tanks were fitted with deep well pumps. Probably the biggest weakness of the unit was the Bludworth type pushing system. Ideally maintained, it cold be fairly robust, but I would often fight the office for that. . . and yeah, getting ejected is NOT pleasant. At least when it happened when I was onboard, we were just a few hours from arrival at Freeport (TX). Rule beater? Yeah, for the most part. Reasonably efficient? Yes.
We had a bow thruster on the PLAQUEMINE, but it only worked for a year or two. Office decided that it was too much of an expense to keep operational. . .
And that is it. I came to ATBs from working on string boats, and not tankers. Even with the dreaded Bludworth system, and other issues we had (steerage when loaded), it sure beat the hell out of towing the barge. Was also much easier to carry out barge maintenance having full access to it. . .
For 80 years. And years ago trucks and cars used wooden spoke wheels with hard rubber treads. Things move on. Some faster than others.
Well they must be doing something right. Building new equipment, big contracts with chevron and similar companies, etc.
Those poor fuckers are never weather bound either. They pretty much run in anything.
After sailing wire boats for many years. deep notch with hydraulic pads was the next evolution, better performance, you could push up to 10/12’ sea’, hellish if you had to get out and tow if you waited that long. Then came Bludworth and Intercon. Bludworth a good improvement combined with deep notch, but not the best solution… I never met an Intercon system I didn’t adore. Good up to 20-25’. Intercon more costly? Yes, in the initial install, but quick payback in efficiency, lost time, and crew comfort. A weather eye before sailing and during the trip of any of those systems is crucial so as to change route/course to protect the integrity of the unit. I don’t recall any of our Intercon units ever having to tow, especially now that they are in ballast while empty.