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Retired captains: new tugs fall short for offshore work

The Faithful and Powerful, acquired by Bermuda in 2020 (File photograph)

A veteran tugboat captain claims Bermuda’s new tugboats, the Faithful and the Powerful, are inadequate for the type of open sea work required for the job.

Roy Kenneth Todd also said staff within the Department of Marine and Ports had shared their concerns over the vessels.

Mr Todd, a retired captain with more than 40 years’ experience, said he was motivated to speak out on behalf of taxpayers over the $12 million vessels.

However, the department responded that “shipping requirements have drastically changed over the years” in defending the selection of the new design, known as Azimuth Stern Drive, which a spokeswoman said delivered “the competitive edge over other overseas jurisdictions in tug assistance servicing today’s mega ships”.

“There is no merit to comments disparaging the tugs or the detailed process by which they were acquired,” said the spokeswoman.

Mr Todd and another ex-captain, who declined to be identified, said they wanted to highlight the risk faced in the event the vessels had to assist ships in the open ocean under difficult sea conditions.

They also blamed training of tug operators for three accidents sustained by the two tugs, which replaced their ageing namesake vessels in 2020.

Marine and Ports said the department had recorded a three incidents with the new tugs, which had been “fully investigated and reports completed”.

Last November, the Faithfulbroke a mast while berthing a cruise ship in Dockyard, when it struck the other vessel’s bow. The tug remained in service.

There were also two “minor grounding incidents” which the department said resulted in no tug damage.

“All incidents that occur on department vessels, including tugs, are properly investigated by the harbourmaster’s office to determine the root cause, and corrective measures to reduce the risk of these incidents from happening again.

“If at any time the vessel sustains damage during the incident, Lloyds will carry out a full inspection of the damaged area and provide repair instructions or guidelines if required.”

The spokeswoman added: “No dissatisfaction has been reported regarding the two new tugs that have been in operation in Bermuda since 2020.”

Mr Todd said Marine and Ports staff had said otherwise.

He told The Royal Gazette: “These tugs are not ideally suited for Bermuda’s needs. No well thought-out research and consultation with seasoned tug captains was conducted for invaluable input.

“No one is more qualified than tug operating captains to recommend what types of tugs are best suited for Bermuda.

“It is understood that the Director of Marine and Ports [Captain Rudy Cann] and a ferry operating captain went to eastern Asia to look at these tugs.”

Contrasting that approach with previous policy, Mr Todd said: “When the previous Powerful and Faithful were being built, the then director and deputy Director of Marine and Ports [Ron Ross and Russell Southern] invited the senior tug captains to a meeting at Royal Army Service Corps Wharf in 1988 for our input.

“They said that we are going to operate these tugs, so our opinions were vital.”

He added: “As it was, some important changes were recommended, and they were implemented because of safety and liability purposes.”

Mr Todd and the other department source with knowledge of the new vessels insisted that Bermuda’s isolation at sea upped the ante on what was required of its tugboats.

“Bermuda is an island over 600 miles from the nearest point in America,” he said.

“In a dire situation where a ship needs tug assistance off Bermuda, these tugs would not be able to accommodate – in particular, if the weather is adverse.

“They have a towing bollard on the main deck, aft, but no tow-hook. A tow-hook should and still can be attached to the towing-bollard for the purpose of offshore and inshore towage.”

He added: “As most people know by now, these tugs have to tow from the bow, which means they have to tow backwards. This method is fine under ordinary circumstances, but there will be times in the future when it will necessitate towing from the stern.”

Mr Todd said training for the tugs was “not adequate – going to simulations overseas is not as adequate as training on similar tugs overseas for a period of at least six months”.

“Tugboat work is very intricate and dangerous at times, and the only method for operators to have the necessary confidence is to gain experience through training with experienced tug operators overseas.”

He added: “We understand that it was very gracious for one of the major cruise ship companies to provide a large sum of money to help the Government to purchase these tugs.

“But we also know that conventional tugs of similar power could have been a better choice.”

Last week the department responded: “The tugs were purchased through an RFP tender process which is mandatory for capital projects.

“Tug personnel and the fleet manager were consulted and involved throughout the procurement process and unanimously agreed to the current tug selection.”

The department said that offshore towing represented “less than 1 per cent of tug requests every year, which did not justify the additional cost to taxpayers for a tow hook; however, the tugs were designed to add a tow hook if the demand for offshore work should increase”.

“More importantly, Bermuda can dispatch a tug to sea for several days to undertake towing operations at the same time, fulfil its international obligations for ships calling Bermuda ports.”

The department also backed its training programme.

“The training process for the new high-tech tugs is a combination of hands-on training led by experienced Azimuth Stern Drive tug masters from the Netherlands and the USA combined with simulation training at an approved ASD tug training facility and understudying experienced tug masters in other countries with a high volume of shipping.

“Tug qualifications are in line with the new Marine and Ports Service Act.”

The department added: “A dedicated team of Marine and Ports staff leads the training. The tug master selection process was achieved through interested qualified personnel within the department in conjunction with our Bermuda Industrial Union partners.”

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Published May 17, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated May 17, 2023 at 7:07 am)

Retired captains: new tugs fall short for offshore work

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