Crowley Maritime’s Newest Assist Tugboat Begins Working Life in Puget Sound

Crowley Maritime
Crowley Maritime
Crowley Maritime’s newest chartered assist tugboat, Athena. Photo courtesy Crowley Maritime.

At the time of this writing, Crowley Maritime’s newest chartered assist tugboat, Athena, is being delivered to Puget Sound for its final sea trials and first days of working life. Athena was built by Diversified Marine and joins Crowley Maritime’s Ship Assist and Escort Services Group.

The compact 77-foot assist tugboat is hull number 44 for Crowley Maritime and packs 6,386 horsepower thanks to two Caterpillar 3516E engines. The twin screws are direct drive with two 2,700-mm 4-blade props. According to Crowley, Athena delivers 90 short tons of bollard pull, making the new assist tugboat the most powerful for its size in the U.S.

“I’ve been with Crowley a little over five years and it’s been a great experience,” says Jonathan Stanley, engineering manager of the firm’s West Coast Ship Assist Group, while he spent time in San Diego overseeing the operations of two Crowley vessels as port engineer and pulling double duty as a hiring manager. He was also laying down the groundwork for the company’s anticipated electric tugboat, a milestone for the industry.

“Crowley Maritime is one of the best maritime companies I’ve ever worked for,” said Stanley. Perks of the job for Stanley in San Diego include working with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines Corps. “They utilize our vessels for training exercises and stuff like that, drop the guys from helicopters onto the back deck,” said Stanley proudly. “We do a lot of training with the Navy SEALs, it’s a neat experience for our guys and the company.”

According to Stanley, everybody in the industry wants to push the boundaries to be the best, but the defining the parameters of “best” matters. Reliability and safety are always number one to him. “Everybody wants to be the biggest and the best, but mainly you want to do it safely.”

From his perspective, the Athena builds upon experience gleaned from the previous Apollo and Hercules Tier IV assist tugboats in the Crowley fleet. “We’re talking about 400 horsepower increase split between two engines [from the Apollo]. That’s allowed us to put a little more pitch in the props and obviously create higher pulling capabilities, which is desirable when it comes to a customer and their escort operations, whether it be an oil tanker or 20,000 BTU containership.”

Paul Manzi, a Crowley vice president, manages West Coast assets and oversees two of the company’s service lines, Ship Assist and Escort and Crowley Alaska tankers. He was a professional mariner before coming ashore and joined the Crowley team about six years ago. His past stints includes a post with for BP (British Petroleum).

“You can work lots of places, but there are few places that really offer you a way of living out your values in the workplace,” said Manzi. “You work with the leadership team and guys like Jonathan and get a chance to do the right thing for all the right reasons.”

For Manzi, the Athena is a statement on Crowley’s embrace of sustainability. “The vision is all about reducing our emissions, reducing our carbon footprint, and doing that in a way that doesn’t jeopardize our performance with what our boats do on the water,” said Manzi.

Athena is the company’s third Tier IV tugboat, the strictest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating for nonroad compression-ignition (diesel) engines. Established in 2004, Tier IV regulates amounts of particulate matter (such as black soot) and nitrogen oxides.

In addition to the company’s commitment to building Tier IV tugboats like the Athena, Crowley Maritime announced a 2050 Net-Zero Commitment in December 2021. The pledge refers to a school of climate science that argues if the world can achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the global rise in temperatures can be limited to a relatively manageable 1.5-degree-Celsius. Crowley estimates that they will need to reduce overall emissions by 4.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gases per year, roughly equivalent to removing more than 900,000 cars from the road annually.

Manzi also teased a shift to hybrid engines in the future. While the exact fuel efficiencies of the Athena were not yet available, a comprehensive Crowley Maritime carbon emissions report is in the works.

Another design aspect of the Athena—and Crowley Maritime as a whole— is the familiar wheelhouse and power system. “When a guy goes from one wheelhouse to the next wheelhouse, it’s 90% the same,” explained Manzi. The standardization of the layout between vessels is a practical choice that helps operators. “If I can get to 100%, that’s great. But it’s that 90%. Down in the plant it’s the same thing, how close can we get our engine systems so that the engineers moving from boat to boat aren’t relearning the whole boat. They’re relearning the (bit) that’s different, as opposed to the whole thing.”

At a glance, the Athena seems to exemplify the trend in the assist-tugboat industry toward both more powerful and diminutive builds. Manzi connected the miniaturization of these tugboats with the gigantism of the ships they assist.

“Now you go to Long Beach or Tacoma, and those guys are working in very small spaces,” said Manzi. “Ships keep getting bigger, which means the tugs have to get smaller or else we’re not going to be able to move around [in port].”

What’s the story behind the name? It’s not just another Greek mythos-inspired name picked off the pile. Athena is meant to evoke the central trait of the goddess: wisdom.

“When we were kicking around the name idea, it was the wisdom factor,” said Stanley. “To make the right decision at the right time, you know, to best fit our strategy. The Athena really cements those themes with that name.”

Manzi agreed and added, “I’ve got two daughters who are Navy officers. I kind of selfishly said, look, I’m going forward with a name that is representative of our commitments and Athena came up.”

The value of wisdom in these times is key. “To Jonathan’s point, the wisdom and the whole thing about that is we’re trying to make smarter boats … A lot of our thinking operationally is leaning that way. What can we add to the boat that will help the mariner and help us help the mariner?”

It’s worth noting that Odysseus would’ve never returned home over the perilous seas to Ithaca in the Odyssey without Athena’s guidance. “She’s guiding Odysseus. She’s all the way through it helping him make his decisions. That’s what we hope she does for the guys on board.”

There’s much to be said about Athena and what her success could mean for the industry. She should be opening her working life by the end of February as a swing boat in Puget Sound. “The pilots there keep saying really nice things about those boats,” said Manzi. “About what they can do and what they can handle, and how they [the pilots] can rely on how (the tugboats) dig in and really help out when they have to.”

Efficiency is the name of the game in the years ahead. “It’s about the fuel savings,” said Manzi. “It’s about the carbon footprint reduction you can get taking these designs and operating them to a different level. And that’s what the guys have been really good at. We’re seeing great opportunities with the Hercules line (that includes the Apollo and Athena) in terms of fuel efficiency. Even though we have additional horsepower, that fuel-consumption value for these boats has been extraordinary … Get all the power and energy we want, and we’re getting it at a reduced consumption. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Stanley echoes the point.

“We don’t want to just burn fuel anymore,” he added. “We want to burn it more efficiently or not have to burn it. That’s ultimately the goal. This is one of the ways that we get there, and we’re getting there rapidly year-over-year coming out with these vessels and then future vessels. So that’s a good thing for the industry.”