The Scourge of the American Petroleum Tankers That Prowl the British Columbia Coast - by INGMAR LEE (U.S. ATBs)

I come to this thread as a Towboater whose career was spent in these waters from a green deckhand to Master on Canadian tugs. These ranged from 0 (rulebeater) to 500T. The cargos covered the gamut from oil to logs. I attest that it took more than 12 transits before an owner gave me a few million worth of tug, barge and cargo to transit this complex piece of water as master or mate. I believe the trend of consolidation of towboat companies has lessioned the amount of local knowledge on this route both at the manning and owner level. Reduced safety margin’s are the result. I cannot speak to ATB’s having no experience. A local major energy sector operator considers 12 mtr breakout a good fit: married to

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I still have to finish the book but reading only the Preface is enough to spur you on to read it all. He is hitting the nails there right on the head. Thanks for the link.

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With ECDIS it’s mandatory to set cross-track error limits for each leg, an alarm will sound when the limit is reached. In addition an alarm would sound if the vessel was heading towards shallow water.

These features are SOLAS required. The program I use on my IPad doesn’t have these features.

In the case of the Nathan Steward the ECDIS would have alarmed when the turn was missed.


But they also have Island Raider and her soon to be christened sister. Island Raider is beautiful and comfortable, with a wheelhouse like a fishbowl. But still an ATB.

9 posts were split to a new topic: Manning Levels on ATB and Tankers

I live and work the central coast. I transit The inside passage regularly also the Hecate. On one hand the proposed pipelines could be lucrative for me.
I prefer my environment is kept free of bitumen tankers.

The Nathan E Stuart’s barge did not leak. The fact it was an oil barge got every excited. Any tug which grounded or sank on this coast would produce a similar environmental problem. Several tug and barges pass through Lama Pass and Seafoarth channel every day.

Sending pusher tugs out to the Hecate is just asking for a worse problem.
greys harbour was mentioned.

As said the problem was crew size and fatigue. But the bottom line is the bottom dollar counts. Until the regulations exist to ensure decent manning and full bridge watch with sufficient watch keepers on tankers then the coast is at risk.
I quite simply do not trust embridge or the Canadian federal government and thier utterly incapable regulators to ensure the coast is protected.

They will go for the cheapest bid and the best photo opportunity.

No notice was taken when the coal ship grounded off prince Rupert .
No notice was taken when a bulkier had to anchor for days in the Hecate

The Norwegian incident should be a learning event for this coast. But it will be ignored because it was a head on collision and the tanker was not badly damaged. Everyone is focused on the yet another dumb navy ship story.
The Norwegian coast was lucky

The stuff they want to ship from Alberta is low grade tar and really horrible for the environment if spilled.

Yet the Canadian government has no problem allowing escort tugs escorting tankers through the 1st and 2nd Narrows with a crew of Master and a SMVO. Why?


Ok they are throwing lots at it today but mostly for PR.

Why not refine it in Alberta and ship light grade refined oil and LNG.

I am sure spilled LNG is not great for the environment but it will do a hell of a lot less harm than the crap from the tar sands.

Sorry for the rant. But I am far less concerned about the American tugs than what they intend to move through here.


This is a good point.

Local tug companies that know the local business and local waters, are how the tugboat business is supposed to work. Distant companies run by lawyers, accountants, and financiers and would be opportunists cutting prices and jumping into work and waters they do not know. This is not good.

A few big companies should not be buying up all the little companies.

Tidewater Barge Lines, a Columbia River operator in Oregon, buying Island Tug & Barge in Vancouver, BC is not a good thing. Nor is Chouest taking Valdez away from Crowley, and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire away from Moran. Nor is Foss (TOTE) gobbling up Young Brothers, Anderson Tug & Barge and Cook Inlet Tug & Barge. Nor was Ksea buying Seacoast, and the Kirby buying Ksea. Harley going to Houston and New York was a bad idea. So is Vane coming to Seattle.

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In the event of an incident it’s all a paper exercise. If the spreadsheet wizards can weave together some documents, one from ABS, one from USCG showing the vessel was seaworthy, the captain and crew qualified, MMCs and so forth it can be shown, on paper, the accident was the crew’s fault.

For example I’m sure the lawyers have a piece of paper showing that the captain of the Jake Shearer was told about the 4 meters limit. Even though the idea of running a boat with a 4 meter sea limit, pushing oil in Alaska is insane.

That’s why they need skin in the game. If some financial lawyer type knows he might go to jail if things go wrong it’s a little more likely he’d at least want to learn a thing or two beyond what’s on paper.


excellent point. Madam Premier thinks so too:

Notley added her government is close to finalizing investment deals on six projects for partial upgrading of oilsands bitumen that will be worth nearly $5 billion of new private sector investment and create hundreds of long-term jobs.

From: CBC, Nov. 22, 2018

Further benefit: upgraded product can be sent through the pipeline without adding solvents to it: meaning more money saved and more value delivered in less time.

There’s no such thing as an LNG spill. If it gets above -260 C, its a gas.

I don’t reckon you can/would want to upgrade tar to methane, though.

The Canadian Tar Sands hold a huge portion of the World’s proven oil reserves. The technology to cost effectively mine and process bitumen into crude oil continues to improve.

Environmentalists absolutely hate Canadian tar sands crude. Most of the objections are to strip mining in the pristine frozen north and the CO2 emissions from mining and processing, but the environmentalists cannot stop this. So they have focused on obstructing the cost effective transportation of tar sands oil to make tar sands oil uneconomic.

They talk as if tar sands crude is the most toxic and dangerous substance on earth and they fight every effort to transport it, particularly cost effective pipelines.

So forget about building tar sands crude pipelines. They are politically toxic. Refine the oil near its source in Alberta into generic higher value products: gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil and diesel. Then build pipelines to transport those relatively clean and well understood products.

Does this mean that a rigid (three-point) connection is not forbidden by default, but the pusher tug has to be capable of operating on her own without the barge (= be reasonably seaworthy)?

ITBs are relatively rare in these days, so here’s a few of my video clips from the early 2000s of such combination:

What does the Rautaruukki do for a living?

The Finnpusku system is mainly used to transport raw materials to the steel mills in the Northern Baltic Sea:

The reason why I’m using it as an example is that the pushers are reasonably seaworthy on their own (I’ve sailed one from Turku to Oxelösund without a barge and it wasn’t terrible) and yet the connection between the two vessels is pretty “flush”, making them somewhat “shipshape”. Also, the connection, designed for unrestricted service and ice operations, is strong enough to withstand capsizing:

Which kind of proves the point that they are unfit for the trade.

Which is a good argument to ban oil transport by ATB/ITB in that region and trade.

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Yes having several barges per tug and operating in a round-robin fashion make sense from an operational point of view.
Having a tug and barge “permanently” mated is obviously to circumvent rules and regulations only.

Don’t take those figures too seriously, it is just a sales pitch in which Maritrans will always try to come out favorable at the cost of the competition.

Their Intercon coupling system is an improvement as they claim that they can handle 25 foot waves, that is twice the specs of the Articouple.

In view of the the fact that the tug has no winch of any importance it would be wise to put runners aboard the barge when the connection is broken but then they have no skiff to do that and no runners with that crew… Old school runners on the barge could, if connecting up by wire fails, always lower the anchor(s) to prevent ending up on the rocks, but then you must have anchors installed and that costs moneymoney so that won’t happen either.

The Finnpusku system is one that the company I worked for was interested in. I looked at it in the early 1980’s and advised the company that it was unsuitable for the trade they were considering because of the sea conditions that the vessel would encounter.

I never knew there was foreign interest for the system. Out of curiosity, what was the reason why the system was not suitable for your operation - vessel design (blunt ice bow), the coupling system, or the general concept?

I have also looked at the principe of several barges, one tug in a round-robin operation, but since ITB/ATBs was not available in S.E.Asia that option didn’t come up.

This was in the last major downturn in the early 1990’s and to produce a VERY marginal oil field in the Gulf of Thailand, (peak production 2000 Bbls/d and dropping quickly)
The beauty of this was that we did not use an FSO and could reduce the transportation capacity to suite te dropping production rate.

The idea was to use 3 X oil barges + 1 tug to receive and transport the oil to a refinery in Thailand. One barge always in the field, one at the refinery and one under way with the tug.
Unfortunately we were obliged to use a J/U under management as the production platform, so we got under bid by a company that offered cheaper production facility, which proved not to function except in dead flat calm.

The area that the ATB was to operate was the West Coast of the South Island and a bar harbour. The sea area is within “the roaring forties” and the fetch is from the East Coast of South America. The coal trade was once served by coasters with very distinctive vertically stowed derricks to reach across two railway tracks and a cruiser stern to rotate off the berth in a fast flowing river when letting go.
The coal from the region is anthracite of a very high quality and was sort after for high quality steel manufacturing.