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


Furuno makes a relatively cheap BNWAS that is starting to show up on tugs due to sub M. Usually set to 10 minutes, it has a heat sensing motion detector that will reset the timer. If time runs out there’s a local audible alarm, if that’s not acknowledged, secondary alarms activate in capt and mate rooms (also galley depending on boat). Some boats have it wired to the autopilot so system is deactivated if in hand steering, or steering is off. This makes it so password is not needed to put system in standby, and onboard crew don’t need (or know) the password.


You didn’t really mean that did you? Of course both problems that can be fixed with regulations. The seaworthiness of vessels has long been a subject of government regulation since before the implementation of the Plimsol mark in 1875. Manning requirements, pilot requirements and licensing are likewise subject to government regulation and have been for more than a hundred years. Not to say that new regulations will totally solve the problem, but certainly they can help.


Nice looking small tanker, but with only four crew, it’s a 499 GT rulebeater too.

That must be two watches with two men each working 6/6, plus cooking and cleaning, and taking care of the engine room. Only two men to pump and keep watch.

Not enough crew to keep two men in the wheelhouse at all times to comply with Canadian regulations.

I do not know how many crew US rules would require for that tanker trading costwise, but I’d guess 6 to 8.


I don’t see how the Canadian government can write regulations that would force U.S. owners to build seaworthy U.S. flag vessels.

What’s stopping any vessel that doesn’t meet Canadian requirements from just staying off-shore?

The second problem what are the chances the Canadians would write and enforce regulations (whatever they are) in practice? Assuming they figure out a way to do it.

I’d say the chance of this situation being fixed with Canadian regs is practically speaking about zero.


I took a quick look, it says four per shift, does that mean a crew of 8 or is the other shift is ashore?


4 on boar/4 on leave.
When sailing there will likely be only one on the bridge at the time (Master/Mate)
The Engineer and AB/Cook may be doing watch at night, or just on call 24/7.
Kraken can probably advice better since he has sailed on the coast, although maybe not on these small vessels.

An old joke was that a small coaster advertised vacancy for an “Engineer with good coastal knowledge and able to cook. MUST have fork lift license”


If they were required to take a Canadian pilot then perhaps there wouldn’t have been only one person on the bridge. If the Canadians required oil vessels over a certain tonnage to transit offshore it wouldn’t matter if it was an American ATB or not.


I think I know which new Canadian ATB you are talking about. Its ASD with Articouple Pins and mated up to a deck barge.


I thought vessels like that had 2 AB’s, so you always had a lookout at night.


That’s true, but I think likely they would just stay off-shore to avoid the pilot fees.

That (mostly) solves the problem of a bad spill inside but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of the ATB not being seaworthy That’s the problem I don’t think will be solved by Canadian regulations.


I worked on ATBs for several years before working as a pilot in Houston. As a pilot I had experience working on a wide variety of ATBs and tankers. I’d like to make the following observations:

  1. An ATB is a vessel designed and built to evade rules that otherwise would apply to a ship built to carry the same cargo. The evaded rules include, but aren’t limited to, crew size, crew license and qualifications, scantling requirements, fire fighting and other safety equipment, navigation equipment, anchors… etc etc.
  2. Vessels openly designed to avoid and evade regulations tell you something enormously negative about the operator/owner of the vessels and their commitment to safety.
  3. ATBs are generally slow, underpowered, and poor maneuvering vessels compared to ships of the same size.
  4. As pointed out above, a small tanker can do everything an ATB can do and do it more safely.
  5. With one exception, two engines and two screws that come with most ATB units. I’ve said many times that tankers should be required to have twin screw arrangements. The disadvantages are few and minor but the advantages are major.
  6. Double hulls was a bullshit “safety” feature. Almost all major maritime accidents involve penetration of the hull greater than the depth of the double hull. Notably, the penetration by rocks of the Valdez was greater than the depth of the double hulls required as a result of that accident. The Eagle Otome was struck by a barge traveling at 4 knots which penetrated 4 meters into her hull.

Read this, it was mentioned in a forum several years ago and every time there is an accident I think of it:

I think a there should be a whole thread devoted to ATBs and their continued existence. My strong feeling is that if we were really interested in safety we’d phase them out and implement some realistic manning requirements for small tankers. The men and women who work on ATBs do an outstanding job with questionable equipment. Their vessels in every case require more work and more exposure to risk than


Rules that force vessels to transit the BC coast offshore are a very bad idea.

See what happened when they forced the Jake Shearer out into Hecate Strait? If she had been transiting Inside past Bella Bella, as she should have been, there would not have been any pin failure or incident.

If tugs with oil barges are forced offshore, it’s just a question of time until an oil barge washes up near Tofino or Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) where it is too rough to do anything about it.

As it stands now, by treaty Canadian tugs are not required to take American pilots in US waters, and American tugs are not required to take Canadian pilots in Canadian waters. There is a large tug and barge trade between BC, Puget Sound, and the West Coast. A lot of goods and dollars flow over the Border by tug and barge everyday. No one wants to screw that up.

One of the items discussed in the Transport Canada April 2018 pilotage study, is to allow American tugboat mariners to be licensed as pilots in Canada for the vessels in the Washington to Alaska tug and barge oil trade. I like that concept.


… and I am probably being unfair to the owners. The system of evading rules and regulations is a race to the bottom. Responsible owners who would like to do the right thing are penalized by a system that rewards the lowest cost operators. If one operator reduces crews from 8 to 6 everyone is obliged to follow suit to stay competitive. If operators are allowed to build “tugs” without towing gear, eventually all such vessels will be without proper winches.

One of the proper and necessary functions of government is to level the playing field so responsible owners are rewarded for building and operating first class vessels.


Yes, I think that’s worth pointing out.

I never worked on an ATB but I do know a conventional wire boat is hard and sometimes risky work.


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


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.


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.