Posted by: towmasters | April 22, 2011

Extreme ATB’s: Towing Vessels Or Something Else?

It’s an ATB on steroids: behold the massive OSG Vision…..

…..a 997 GRT/12,000 horsepower “tug” (153′ long x 51′ beam x 26′ draft) that mates with the OSG 350, a 342,000-barrel (655′ long x 105′ beam) barge via an Intercon 64″ diameter pin system…..

…..and is designed specifically for lightering tankers at the Big Stone Anchorage in the lower Delaware Bay so that they can decrease their draft enough to make it to the refineries upriver at Delaware City, Marcus Hook, Trainer, Paulsboro and Philadelphia to discharge their cargo.

Impressive? Absolutely. But a towing vessel? They’ve got to be kidding.

All of the photos above were taken in New York Harbor, and just look at it heel while turning outbound onto the Con Hook Range. Yes, it has the obligatory pretend “tow bitt” on the stern and a closed chock in the middle of the taffrail. There’s also probably a theoretical-but-untested emergency-towing procedure spelled out in some enormous safety manual, too. But can you imagine, in your worst nightmare, actually having to tow a barge astern at sea in rough weather, or any weather at all, after a pin-system failure or emergency of some sort? They’d have to have fighter aircraft seats to strap into up in that eagle’s nest of a pilothouse or you’d be bouncing around in there like a tennis ball getting swatted back and forth by the pros at the U.S. Open.

At-sea launch and recovery of their fast rescue craft (FRC), or maybe it should be called the dangerous rescue boat (DRB) instead, looks to be another evolution that you would want to avoid participating in at all costs, if you value your life and limbs. Just a quick, relatively long-distance view of the launching apparatus and layout should give any sane seaman immediate doubts. As is often the case with these things, it looks good on paper to people who will never have to do it themselves. In the real world, however, the high level of practical skills and experience needed to successfully perform this tricky and potentially very dangerous procedure would be way beyond the means and ability of the typical small crew of a towing vessel. It’s a labor-intensive skill that takes time and steady practice to develop, let alone master, and then it must be regularly used or it will be quickly lost. All the STCW-mandated schools in the world won’t help you with this, either: it’s a 100% practical, hands-on task that no simulator or class room can substitute for.

I’m sure this is a wonderful, state-of-the-art ATB, and that it has many impressive design and safety features that surpass most or even all of the previous standards of the class. Any company that chooses to raise the bar, even just a little, deserves praise for it, and OSG has clearly raised the bar. We at the MTVA encourage all companies to think and act in this forward way. But to call the Vision, or any of the other new super-sized ATB’s that have been built lately, a towing vessel, and especially to man it as such (if that is in fact what is being done), is just plain absurd. One day there may be a realistic and widely-accepted standard of what is and is not a towing vessel applied equitably and fairly industry-wide. For now the ATB’s just keep getting bigger, and the madness continues…..

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