The ATB - What Does The Future Hold?

For those of you who didn’t catch it, MarineLink did a nice little spread on where the ATB sector of the industry is going. Big things happening. I can feel the ground shaking with the sound of hulls going down the ways as we speak. They hint at it only briefly in the article but having spoken to a McAllister representative myself recently I can say that they will be cutting steal on a container ATB project very soon. At least, that’s what I was lead to believe by the person I spoke to. The LNG ATB’s are fast approaching too. So exciting!!!

Edited by Joseph KeefeTuesday, October 08, 2013


[I][B]The AT/B comes of age: operating coastwise, Jones Act – and beyond the horizon, too.[/B][/I]
A great deal has been written about the capabilities of the AT/B, or “Articulated Tug/Barge” unit in recent years. Without a doubt, though, the concept is firmly established as a viable ocean and coastwise transportation system in North America. But like any transportation asset, the concept has to not only expand its’ capabilities, but also conform over time to ever-changing rules and regulations. It must also be able to embrace and adapt to changes in technology that hold the promise of reduced emissions as well as savings in fuel and protection of the environment.
AT/B’s recently placed in service as well as those on the drawing boards today, are indeed being designed around these principles and future AT/B’s promise higher speeds per HP, lower fuel consumption and the application of all manner of “green” technologies in their construction.

[B]Early on[/B]
The United States and Canada both built their modern coastwise transportation networks around self-propelled vessels. Once the age of powered vessels was born, the development of non-powered barges, towed by powered tugboats, began in earnest. The earliest barges were created from sailing vessels, and indeed, some even retained their sails, to assist in the movement of the tow. In fact, non-self-propelled vessels pulled by mules, or free-drifting in the current, had been common along North America’s rivers and canals for many years.
When it came to offshore and coastal operations, towed barges had a lot of issues when held up to the light of both fuel consumption and schedule reliability. There was also a desire to increase the safety factor in tug and barge operations by exerting better control over a barge than to have it on a long towing hawser. Looking at the entire situation, the solution was obvious enough. Create a tug and barge that could operate with the crew of a traditional tug and barge, yet could be weather-reliable and safer to operate in heavy seas, with increased speed where that speed would be useful.
Pushing a barge yields better speed than towing it. By its very nature, towing involves adding enough resistance to a barge stern that it will “follow” the tug. If you are pushing, then you want that this resistance penalty is removed. So, various patents to connect a tug and a barge with a secure mechanical connection, were filed - all the way back into the 1800’s. In the late 1960’s, Edwin Fletcher with ARTUBAR, and the Bludworth family of flexible pushing systems, were pioneering efforts to marry the economies of pushing, with the safety/seakeeping inherent in mechanically linking the tug and barge at sea. Other systems were developed and tried; not all were successful.
The AT/B owes its current state of the art, in large part to the progression in development of ARTUBAR, and BLUDWORTH in the U.S., and then the landmark ARTICOUPLE system in Japan, followed by the INTERCON system in 1986. The 21st century has now also seen the wide application of the JAK system on small to mid size AT/B’s.

[B]Safety: Second to None[/B]
The safety record of the AT/B has been excellent. No double-hulled AT/B has ever been involved in a cargo spill incident and only one AT/B has been involved in a collision that resulted in a spill and that was judged to be human error on the part of the bridge crew of all three vessels involved in the collision – which included a ship. There has been no loss of life on an AT/B.
The field of AT/B design has seen great advances in recent years. AT/B’s were among the first tank vessels to adopt double hulled cargo tanks and AT/B tugs were among the first to employ double-skin fuel tanks. AT/B designers are also among the most prolific users of large-scale model testing and have been among the earliest commercial users of Computational Fluid Dynamics software to optimize their designs.
Today’s naval architects include specialists in AT/B design and Robert Hill of Ocean Tug & Barge Engineering Corp., of Milford, MA has specialized in the design of AT/B’s for many years. His success comes, in part, from a willingness to innovate. “AT/B design has more than kept up with the times,” Hill told[I] MarineNews[/I] in August. “We have, as an engineering-industry, worked tirelessly to stay ahead of the various technology curves and have even been responsible for many innovations that apply to other fields of ship design.” He adds, “With all the talk of reduced bridge complements, the tug and barge industry has been safely running single-officer bridges for decades.” Naval architects serving the tug/barge industry have long dealt with the needs of designing a vessel to be easily operable by a compact crew size, as well as making the boats themselves far more crew-friendly. That effort continues today. AT/B accommodations and designs are among the most comfortable available – they have to be, given the problem the entire maritime industry has in attracting and retaining crew members. According to Hill, “The boats HAVE to be good and the principal designers in this field are collectively among the best multi-discipline naval architects in the world.”

[B]Built to Order: Fit for Purpose[/B]
Modern AT/B’s are being increasingly designed for ship-like speeds. For example, OT&BE’s “RAPID” class AT/B’s will be capable of 15 to 16 knot speeds and the design is being used at this very moment in designs being prepared for AT/B’s to carry containers and compressed/liquefied gasses. Hill insists, “It is not pie in the sky, nor is it a claim with no back-up to it.” Today, AT/B’s are being developed to run on LNG and to employ advanced, American-made diesel and gas-electric drive systems. And Hill insists, “These are not research projects – designs are being prepared for building.” In OT&BE’s office alone, designs are underway for refrigerated gas carriers, two types of container-carrying AT/B’s, LNG bunkering AT/B’s, the tug portion of an AT/B dredge, AT/B’s for project cargoes, and a recent boom in inquiries for 110, 150 and 190,000 barrel capacity crude carrier AT/B’s (reflecting the new prosperity in U.S. crude oil stocks and the rejuvenated U.S. coastwise tanker trades) has resulted in further design work. “We’re all very busy,” Hill says of the principal designers of AT/B’s worldwide, “Not only here, but overseas as well.”
Both vessel Owners and their charterers are asking more of the AT/B’s they build and charter. They are looking for vessels that can save fuel, reduce their emissions, and provide top quality accommodations for the crews. The vetting process that AT/B operators go through when chartering vessels to oil companies and their subsidiaries, is the same vetting tanker Owners must deal with. Being a tug and barge does not allow for any “slack” in the requirements on any level. AT/B’s are widely employed because, says Hill, “… they meet those requirements and they do the job they are chartered to do and they do it safely and efficiently”

[B]Horses for Courses: Here and Everywhere[/B]
Today, AT/B’s operate on trans-oceanic routes; they operate from the Gulf Coast to the east coast, to South America, and even to Europe. From the west coast they service Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. One even runs military equipment to far-away bases. Bulk units move everything from coal to grain to rock, to iron ore, to virtually any mineral needing transportation. Tank barges move a huge range of crude and refined product as well as chemicals and liquefied gasses. They take dangerous cargoes off rail lines and highways and route them safely at sea as opposed to moving them through cities and towns. That’s not to say that the AT/B is a universal panacea for any sort of ocean trade route. That said; where an AT/B can fit into a particular slot, it will generally do it VERY well.

[B]AT/B’s Evolve: Shipyards, too[/B]
As AT/B Designers, Owners and Crews are evolving – so, too, are the shipyards that build these boats. The so-called “Second Tier Shipyards” – the yards that build many of the AT/B’s – are anything but second tier today. Many have become specialists in the building of AT/B’s, utilizing modern infrastructure that rivals some of the larger commercial shipyards. Hill notes that all of the fine design work in the world means nothing, if an equally fine builder isn’t there to make the design come to life.
Over time, Ocean service AT/B’s have been built in Maine, Rhode Island, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. The industry has provided shipbuilding jobs in fourteen states. AT/B ocean barges are built in inland river shipyards and their attending tugs can be built in an even wider range of coastal small vessel construction yards. Collectively, these shipyards are among the most productive in the world and according to Bob Hill, even foreign AT/B customers are looking to American yards to build their AT/B’s. “It is a trickle, right now, but it is there and if what my clients are saying turns into contracts, American yards may be building soon for overseas clients.” Indeed, they are already doing so in other sectors. AT/B’s could be next.

[B]Innovation and Improvements[/B]
AT/B’s have kept apace of their single hull counterparts include Emissions and Environmental Protection, Crew Comfort, Fuel Consumption, Constructability, Reliability In Service and expansion of services & trade routes. Beyond that, electric drive systems employing multiple generator/VSG/DC Bus/PM motor and generator configurations have the potential to reduce duel consumption on certain AT/B’s by over 20%. A Jones Act AT/B gas carrier slated to go to shipyard bid in December of this year and another, a container AT/B are both similarly designed with these features. Innovative solutions to both hull production and assembly are being carried out by Senesco Marine, while VT Halter has produced the largest class, and second largest class of AT/B’s to date. The extensive use of 3D CAD design in both design offices and shipyards, makes it possible now to expand the kinds of hulls that can be created in the name of higher speed.

[B]Looking Ahead & Back … [/B]
New trade opportunities assure that new kinds of AT/B’s will be built in the future. From small landing craft type, multi-purpose units designed to supply outlying Aleutian Islands with the necessities of life, to LNG carriers, to specialized chemical carriers, to the first vessels designed to fulfill the Marine Highway (shortsea shipping) promise, these versatile vessels are finding their way into the American merchant fleet in ever-increasing numbers. The same holds true in overseas markets as well.
What was once labeled by opponents as a “sorry excuse for a ship,” the AT/B has gone about its business, proving time and again that it has earned a well-justified place in the world’s merchant fleets.

(As published in the September 2013 edition of Marine News -

I just read that yesterday, I like it much better than the blasting we got in that other article.

[QUOTE=Tugboater203;123017]I just read that yesterday, I like it much better than the blasting we got in that other article.[/QUOTE]

I agree, that other guy was completely out of his own depth and Bob Hill did an excellent job of rebutting every fact in the original anti-ATB article. The future is bright. ATB’s are what is saving the American Merchant Marine. They are one of few hopes we have left.

I agree, the only real issue is the lack of direction from the sub chapter M regs in regards to manning and inspections.

[QUOTE=Tugboater203;123021]I agree, the only real issue is the lack of direction from the sub chapter M regs in regards to manning and inspections.[/QUOTE]

I am aware of this new sub-chapter M phenomenon but not knowing enough of the details I am inclined to ask if you would expand more on that view point, in regards to how it will affect ATB’s.

My take on it is that if anything it will TRY to squash the two watch system, but won’t. It will require license engineers and a qmed/assistant. Lot of it is more SMS scrutiny, requiring all systems be built/installed to class standards, and potential increased redundancy in systems (steering Etc).

The big issue is letting third parties do the inspections. No better than letting class do it as is the case with flag state issues. It works to a degree but hire some civilian inspectors and let the CG do it. Then again my experience with COI inspections have let way too much stuff go until the “next” year because of a pro-commerce COPT pressuring inspectors.

I have a passing interest in ATBs and other combination vessels. Are they usually built around “single tugboat, single barge” principle where the two vessels are hardly ever separated and the savings come from lower manning requirements etc., or are they “systems” with [I]n[/I] tugboats and [I]n+1[/I] barges that are swapped in the port (drop and swap) for quicker turnaround?

Personally I’m only familiar with the latter (integrated system with rigid three-point coupling, originally 2 tugboats and 5 barges), but I’ve heard of the former as well. There used to be a converted salvage tug around here, mated to a barge that was never separated from the tugboat, but I’ve heard that they are much more common in the US where some newly built ATBs are like that.

They don’t really do the drop and swap thing as they can load/discharge in 12-18 hours depending on product, guagers, berths etc. Reinauer rigs for example are often compatible with different barges/boats of the same class. I reckon some Boo-shard units are too. They typically don’t swap but could. Since the tankermen don’t live on the barge there is infinite grumbling if the crew or barge gets shaken up. A crew needs a few hour break while discharging for maintenance, paperwork and whatnot although the office would prefer otherwise.

While many are capable of the drop-n-swap they’re usually done with product before it’s really an issue. In the North East it seems that even though most units are more than capable of swapping it really only happens with the smaller units that use manned barges.

What does everyone think about the container ATB? Just another charlie foxtrot or forging the path of the future of domestic shipping?

Truck lobby is too strong. They’re taking our jobs! Too much crony crap for roads, railroads, truckers and whatnot to get the domestic traffic on the water. That’s my story! Container barge has been tried over and over and over, even the Halifax-Portland-Boston run with a small ship and it never works out.

[QUOTE=PaddyWest2012;123184]What does everyone think about the container ATB? Just another charlie foxtrot or forging the path of the future of domestic shipping?[/QUOTE]

I agree partially with z-drive, it has been tried many times in the past and no one has ever been able to make it profitable. I know for a fact Kirby has tried it 3 different times and gave up the service in less than a year. Kirby once tried to start a mini ship division that would run containers from the mostly the gulf coast to Mexico and the Caribbean. The mini ship was going to have a shallow enough draft to be able to go very far up the Mississippi river so they wouldn’t have to truck or transfer anything from inland barges, just go straight onto the mini ship. That project died on the drawing board. A good friend of mine was offered the captains spot on it. This same captain had 30 years with Kirby and they named a boat after him. My name was in the hat to be one of the engineers on it, but the project never materialized. I don’t think there is enough Jones act container traffic, to make it work.

I live in Mobile, our port gets a huge amount of container traffic from New Orleans. It is cheaper they say to truck the containers over from New Orleans, then load them on ships in Mobile, than it is to run the ships all the way up the Mississippi river. A 2 hour ship transit verses a 8 to 10 hour. They have tried the container on barge thing here several times and every one that has tried it has gave up the service fairly quickly. I can only speculate as to why.

I guess Crowley running to Puerto Rico is about the only success story of hauling containers on barges that I can think of. At least for any sustained length of time I guess I should say.

Crowley doesn’t still run their trailer barges to any of the Gulf ports anymore, to they?

Nope that’s gone Away.

McAllister has 2 Columbia Coastal runs each week. Norfolk-Balt-Philly-Norfolk and Norfolk-Balt-Norfolk. Norfolk tug does a twice weekly container barge run from Norfolk to Richmond, and has been for about 2 1/2 years.