New Vessel and Tugboat Review

A Glosten-designed San Francisco Bar Pilots pilot boat. Image: Glosten.

As constituents and regulators increasingly push for cleaner maritime operations, supply chain stakeholders are commissioning the next generation of vessels to be more sustainable to ensure compliance.

“Two or three years ago, vessels that had a lower emissions footprint may have made up 10% of the work we were doing,” Michael Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of the Vancouver-based naval architect company Robert Allan, Ltd., told Pacific Maritime Magazine.

“This year, in new contracts we’ve received in the last 12 months, it’s somewhere between 60% and 70%,” he said. “It’s a real sea change from the last couple of years.”

The public and private sectors are seeking out companies such as Seattle-based Elliott Bay Design Group to advise them on how to make their fleets more sustainable, whether it’s developing vessels running on electricity or alternative fuels or both.

John Waterhouse, a principal at EBDG, encourages every operator to get some technical support and to begin the planning process toward updating its fleet. 

“None of this stuff happens overnight; it takes time, takes money,” he said. “These new technologies are not cheap. But you’ve got to plan for it.”

Here’s a look at some notable new commercial vessels that have entered service over the past year or are currently under construction.

Robert Allan Ltd.

The Canadian firm’s design work has been prolific, to say the least. Last year, 88 Robert Allan-designed vessels were delivered, 87 of them tugboats, Fitzpatrick said.

Among the notable recently delivered vessels are the HaiSea Wamis for HaiSea Marine, a joint venture between the Haisla Nation and Seaspan ULC.

The HaiSea Wamis, which made its debut in Canada last July, is the first of three Robert Allan Ltd.-designed ElectRA 2800 battery electric tugs. Built at Sanmar Shipyards in Turkey, the tug’s designed to run solely on battery power during terminal operations, with charging support from the local power grid.

The HaiSea Wamis is currently in Vancouver undergoing sea trials before it relocates to its permanent homeport in Kitimat, B.C. to serve LNG Canada’s export facility.

With its sister vessels HaiSea Wee’git and HaiSea Brave, the trio together have the potential to save more than 5,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually, roughly equal to 1,000 cars, according to the company.

HaiSea also tapped Robert Allan Ltd. for the design of two RAstar 4000-DF series tugs that would be used for LNG carrier escort service in Douglas Channel and Hecate Strait between Kitimat and the Pacific Ocean, the company said. In a March 2023 ceremony, the two escort tugs were officially named the HaiSea Warrior and the HaiSea Kermode.

Fitzpatrick also expressed excitement over the two company-designed all-electric tugs that were unveiled April 10 by SAAM Towage and its partners. The ElectRA 2300-SX tugs, which are set to serve customers in the Port of Vancouver this spring, are expected to lower CO2 emissions by 2,400 metric tons annually, according to SAAM. 

“British Columbia is really an ideal candidate for electric boats,” Fitzpatrick said, citing the availability of clean affordable electricity for powering vessels that perform fairly predictable work of short duration. 

“We can generate a lot of power with the electric tugs, but endurance is one of the things that just creates operational challenges, so we look for the right type of operation for battery boats,” he said.

Meanwhile, a number of Robert Allan-designed vessels are currently under construction. They include two Articulated Tug and Barge (ATB) convoys that would be owned and operated by logistics provider Aliança Navegação e Logística.

Brazil-based Rio Maguari Shipyard awarded the design contract in 2022 to Robert Allan, which was asked to develop an ATB robust enough to handle operating along the Brazilian coast.

The design company leaned on its in-house experts with experience in computational fluid dynamics and motions analysis to forecast vessel reactions to expected environmental conditions and conduct comprehensive studies on hull optimization to lower fuel use while offering directional stability, according to Robert Allan.

The company also used its Proteus DS dynamic analysis software to examine the loads at the ATB tug barge connecting pins, making sure they were within allowable limits under extreme sea conditions.

The TRAnsfer 3800 tug is expected to feature two Wärtsilä 6L32 main engines and Schottel SRP630FP Z-drives. The ATB connecting pins are Intercon model 34C. The barges can each accommodate up to 700 TEUs and feature a 500 kW Schottel SST2 bow thruster and generator sets that can power the anti-heeling system, bow thruster and reefer containers, the company said.

Sanmar Shipyards is building two Robert Allan-designed RAsalvor 4400-DFM dual fuel methanol escort tugs that would serve the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and escort tankers from the Port of Vancouver to open waters.

KOTUG Canada in partnership with Sc’ianew First Nation awarded the contract to the shipyard to build the 44 meter-long tugs, to be named SD AISEMAHT and SD QWII-AAN’C SARAH. 

Anticipated to start service in 2025, the tugs would be fueled by methanol and feature a bollard pull of more than 115 tons.

“We’re really excited to be working on all these lower emission vessels, and it makes for an exciting and a challenging time to be in our business, and in many cases, being one of the first companies to do something like the methanol (vessel),” Fitzpatrick said. “Our goal is always not to deliver an R&D platform; we really have invested a lot in our own capabilities in our systems to make sure even though we’re adopting new technology, the boat that comes out at the end is a fully working vessel.”

Elliott Bay Design Group

The marine engineering and naval architecture firm has been involved in the planning and design of some of the nation’s most modern vessels. 

Elliott Bay Design Group collaborated with Maritime Partners, LLC, on a methanol-powered towboat, considered to be the first long-range towboat that would be IMO 2030 compliant.

The towboat would use patented technology to allow methanol to run through a reformer and extract hydrogen that would then go through a fuel cell to generate electricity to power the towboat, said John Waterhouse, a principal at EBDG. He added that Maritime Partners is in the process of building the demonstration vessel, which is expected to operate on the Mississippi on delivery next year. 

“We’re looking at this whole landscape of people looking to reduce emissions, decarbonize,” he said.

He pointed to one of EBDG’s clients, the Steamship Authority, which provides ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket from Cape Cod. The firm participated in a study two years ago to review the authority’s current fleet needs. 

“It’s causing customers of ours, like the Steamship Authority, to look at their fleet and say, ‘Okay, how do we answer our constituents who are saying … what are you going to do to reduce your environmental footprint?’” Waterhouse said.

The authority now plans to commit $750,000 over the next two years toward the development of a diesel-electric hybrid ferry that could go into production in 2027, according to the Vineyard Gazette.

Meanwhile, EBDG announced in March a collaborative agreement with Finnish marine and energy tech firm Wärtsilä to advance the development of EBDG’s Clean Harbor Alternative Mobile Power (CHAMP) Barge design.

The floating mobile power platform design would feature Wärtsilä’s methanol engine technology, which would offer a cost-effective way to curb large vessel emissions in situations where conventional shore power is limited or unavailable, Wärtsilä said.

With green methanol as its energy source, CHAMP has the potential to provide a power range of 6-16 MW, allowing for cold ironing for vessels, whether docked or anchored, for more than two weeks before needing refuel, according to Wärtsilä.

“There is an opportunity in the market to provide essentially a mobile supply of electricity to support either a hovercraft or visiting ships … and we saw that Wärtsilä has been developing an internal combustion engine that will burn methanol directly,” Waterhouse said.

“Wärtsilä builds engines, but they are also a large international conglomerate that has done a lot in electrical power generation and electrical energy storage,” he continued. “So they are a great partner to team up with because they understand how all those components have to work together.” 

The design group is also overseeing the design and construction of the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority’s new 300-passenger battery-electric vessels.

Last November, WETA netted a $16 million federal grant toward its four ferry projects at the Alameda Seaplane, Downtown San Francisco and Main Street Alameda ferry terminals. The firm is looking at an electrification plan for WETA’s entire fleet, Waterhouse said, adding that the four boats are currently under construction.

EBDG also designed the new 200-foot-long oil spill response barge, Allison Creek, which was delivered in April to operate in Prince William Sound and help Alaska strengthen the region’s emergency response capabilities.

The barge built by Anacortes shipbuilder Dakota Creek Industries features a 13,600-barrel capacity and a 42-foot beam, as well as a deck crane and on-deck houses for emergency response equipment storage.

A rendering of the Glosten-designed 50-meter (164-foot) research vessel Thuwal II. Image: Glosten.


Glosten, a naval architectural and marine engineering firm with offices in Seattle and Providence, R.I., has been focused on various design projects.

Anticipating the prospect of adding to or updating its fleet, San Francisco Bar Pilots reached out to Glosten in October 2022 for a feasibility study that looked at the best propulsion system that meets current and future California Air Resources Board emissions requirements.

They evaluated direct-drive Tier IV, parallel hybrid and series hybrid options, all designed to comply with CARB requirements and handle the demands of pilot station boat work.

In 2023, Glosten began working on the contract design for three station boats that used parallel-hybrid propulsion systems with batteries. The boats need to be fast, comfortable and comply with CARB’s new Commercial Harbor Craft regulations, said Glosten, which is in the midst of finalizing the contract design.

“We’ve been fortunate to be in a position to support a handful of California-based projects since the introduction of CARB, and it has given us the opportunity to get well acquainted with the new requirements and how best to meet them,” Glosten CEO Morgan Fanberg said.

“It’s rewarding to be able to deliver that expertise to an established client, especially one who is willing to take on the challenge of building hybrid vessels that go above and beyond CARB requirements,” Fanberg continued.

“San Francisco Bar Pilots aims to decarbonize and being able to help them meet this goal through cutting-edge engineering—with special attention to the comfort and longevity of these vessels—is a great feeling,” he added.

Glosten’s also developing the concept design for a 37.7-meter research vessel for the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), an organization focused on the sustainable management and preservation of marine resources and aquatic ecosystems .

Glosten engineers collaborated with SARDI to define the proposed vessel’s capabilities and operational requirements and figure out what sort of hull shape and propulsion system would best suit their needs.

The concept monohull vessel calls for a launch and recovery system, the ability to conduct fisheries research and a multi-mission-friendly layout that SARDI could use for various science functions, the company said.

Glosten is expected to complete the concept design package in the coming weeks. The institute plans to use the package to support its business case for building the vessel. The Australian National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy is funding the work.

“The design team worked closely with SARDI to optimize the arrangement of science spaces on the Main Deck,” Glosten Project Manager Steven Bargh said. “I think we found an excellent solution to facilitate science workflow while still maintaining ease of access to other spaces on the vessel.”

Meanwhile, in 2023 Glosten finished the design of another research vessel, the r/v Thuwal II-KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology). The new 50-meter research vessel is anticipated to be the biggest and most specialized research vessel based in the Red Sea with ultra deep-water capabilities that enable the vessel to study the seafloor spreading zone, according to the company.

Glosten Principal Ken FitzGerald said it has been an honor to support KAUST—a leading hub for oceanographic research in the Middle East—with the design of their new research vessel. 

“We pride ourselves on providing clients with highly customized vessels and the Thuwal II is a great example of this, from its unique hot-weather cooling systems to its deep-water research capabilities,” he said. “It’s the latest in a lineage of bespoke Glosten-designed research vessels that began with the Alpha Helix in 1970.”

The r/v Thuwal II-KAUST is among four ongoing research vessel projects that Glosten has worked on for vessels in this class range, which include Oregon State University’s three regional class vessels, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s r/v David Packard and UC San Diego’s hydrogen-hybrid coastal class vessel.

The Makani Loa was built at Gunderson Marine & Iron in Portland, Ore. and launched on March 2. She is a sister barge to the Kamakani and Namakani barges which were added to the fleet in 2020. Photo: Gunderson Marine.

Gunderson Marine

Portland, Ore.-based Gunderson Marine and Iron has been working on a number of projects, including an unmanned steel deck barge project for the new offload infrastructure at the U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station.

Dee Burch, Gunderson’s president, spoke about her excitement for the project, which she said embodies the company’s commitment to innovation and excellence in maritime engineering.

“This project represents a unique challenge due to the extreme Antarctic environment and the vital role the barge will play as a floating pier for cargo and research vessels,” Burch said. “We’re proud to leverage our expertise in marine engineering and construction to deliver a vessel that meets ABS standards and is specifically designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the Antarctic, including freezing temperatures and crushing sea ice.”

Last November, Gunderson won the contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design, build, test and deliver a 328-foot barge that would act as a floating pier where cargo and research vessels can moor to offload/onload crew and equipment.

Articulating strut arms would anchor the pier to the shore, enabling it to rise and fall with the tides and sea ice. Access bridges also would allow vehicles and equipment to service moored vessels.

A unique challenge to the barge project is the ability to handle the cold Antarctic environment (-29°C design air temperature), Gunderson said. To overcome these challenges, Burch said, Gunderson collaborated closely with its naval architects and engineers to develop a reinforced hull design and high-strength alloy steel construction that could withstand harsh conditions.

The hull is designed with “a gradient slope angle or rake” to allow the barge to ‘float’ up on top of the sea ice flows to avoid being crushed.

Also, ensuring that the barge could be safely towed from Gunderson’s manufacturing facilities in Portland to Antarctica, and then anchored securely next to the shore at McMurdo Station, presented logistical challenges. 

The barge, which is expected to be completed in March 2026, would take three months to travel from Portland to the station.

Once the equipment’s there, Gunderson crew members plan to unpack the barge, outfit it for pier service and support mooring and access bridge installation work so that the floating pier barge can begin operations.

The McMurdo Station project marks a significant step for Gunderson in diversifying its business portfolio, Gunderson Vice President of Complex Fabrication Brian Akin said.

“The revenue and expertise gained from this endeavor will enable us to explore new opportunities in infrastructure development and support our growth strategy in these sectors,” Akin said.

Gunderson also built Aloha Marine Lines’ newest barge, Makani Loa. The barge, which launched in March, serves customers in bi-weekly service between Seattle and Hawaii.

The Makani Loa joins Makani Class sister barges Kamakani and Namakani, which were added in 2020. Each are 438 feet long and 105 feet wide, have a 16,900-ton-deadweight capacity and high binwalls to keep freight secure while curbing the amount of lashing needed for travel.

Gunderson is no stranger to the Aloha Marine Lines and Lynden family of companies, having constructed 26 of the 34 barges that Lynden owns and operates.

“We take pride in working with a premier partner like Gunderson on the construction of the Makani Loa,” Aloha President Jason Jansen said. “Their skilled and experienced people are the best in the industry and the reason our relationship has spanned decades.”   

KAREN ROBES MEEKS, a Southern California native, is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years’ writing experience. Her articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register and Long Beach Press-Telegram, where she worked as a reporter for nearly 14 years. Her work has been recognized by the California News Publishers Association, the Associated Press News Executives Council and the Los Angeles Press Club.