The ocean and coastal towing industry is evolving, and one of the companies being aggressive in its efforts to keep up with the times is Crowley Maritime.
Crowley, which is based in Jacksonville, Florida, has a significant presence on the West Coast, including locations in Alaska, California and Washington state. The company and its various business arms and subsidiaries, including Crowley Fuels, Crowley Shipping, Jensen Maritime, Crowley Logistics and others – have been engaged in many moves — both literally and figuratively — over the past year-plus.
Crowley’s marine services group operates one of the more established fleets of ship assist and tanker escort tugs in North America. The company also operates and manages the largest U.S.-flag petroleum and chemical tank vessel fleet in the U.S., including 42 Jones Act qualified large petroleum transportation vessels that carried nearly 570 million barrels of product with more than 5,700 transfers in 2020.
Among the latest news within the company is that Crowley Maritime Corp. will build and operate eWolf, the first all-electric powered harbor tugboat that can complete a job without expending a drop of fuel, the company announced July 12.
The electric tug will replace one that consumes more than 30,000 gallons of diesel per year. The eTug, which will operate at the Port of San Diego’s Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal, is expected to be operational by mid-2023.
The 82-foot vessel with 70 tons of bollard pull advances Crowley and the maritime industry’s efforts toward sustainability and decarbonization. Over the first 10 years of its use, the operation of the eTug is expected to reduce 178 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), 2.5 tons of diesel particulate matter, and 3,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) versus a conventional tug.
The eTug will be built by Master Boat Builders in Coden, Alabama, utilizing the design and on-site construction management by Crowley Engineering Services and its recently integrated Jensen Maritime naval architecture and marine engineering group. The vessel’s battery system will be charged at a specially designed, shoreside station developed with Cochran Marine.
It will also feature a design that allows the vessel to operate fully electric with full performance capabilities – and zero carbon emissions, according to Crowley Maritime. The eTug will feature a fully integrated electrical package.
“Our dedicated shipbuilding employees are proud to be working with Crowley to lead innovation with the construction of this first-of-its-kind tugboat,” Master Boat Builders President Garrett Rice said. “This vessel will set a standard in the U.S. maritime industry for sustainability and performance, and its zero-emissions capability and autonomous technology will benefit the environment and the safety of mariners and vessels.”
The eTug is being built as a result of a partnership between Crowley, the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District, the California Air Resources Board, the Port of San Diego, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Maritime Administration, all of which provided financial support and other resources.
“Unlike other designs, it’s totally electric,” Crowley spokesman David DeCamp told Pacific Maritime. “It does have some contingency measure in it, but unlike others, it doesn’t serve as a hybrid design, it has its own shoreside energy charging station, and we can customize that to a variety of locations.”
“What we’re doing is adapting renewable equipment to all of our vessel designs — not just the ocean towing — where it makes sense,” Crowley Business Development Director Bryan Nichols added.
The eTug news came just a little over two weeks after the late June revelation that Crowley had taken delivery of its new 55,000-barrel, articulated tug-barge (ATB), the Aurora/Qamun.
The 410-foot vessel is the second ATB in Crowley’s fleet, after the Aveogan/Oliver Leavitt, to be dedicated to the Alaska market. The company says it’s specially designed to add efficiency and range to transport clean petroleum products for Crowley Fuels, the company’s Alaska-based business unit.
“This purpose-built vessel was specifically designed by our in-house naval architects to safely and effectively operate in the Last Frontier, and especially in the remote regions of Western Alaska year-round,” explained Crowley Engineering Services Vice President Ray Martus, who oversaw the design and construction.
The ATB, outfitted with EPA Tier IV engines for reduced emissions, has a range of 4,300 miles, making it able to access most locations across Alaska. The vessel also features Z-drive propulsion and 400 hp bow thrusters, allowing it to move smoothly in tight areas, Crowley says.
Also, according to the company, the Aurora/Qamun meets Ice Class and Polar Code requirements, which include increased structural framing, shell plating and extended zero-discharge endurance with shallow water capability.
The tug was constructed by Master Boat Builders of Coden, Alabama, and the barge was constructed by Portland, Ore.-based Gunderson Marine, a subsidiary of the Greenbrier Companies.
“We are excited that the Aurora is headed to Alaska to do the important job it was designed and built to do and are grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this project,” Master Boat Builders President Garrett Rice said.
“This project further strengthens the U.S. Jones Act fleet and provided crucial support for numerous dedicated businesses and their employees during the pandemic,” said Gunderson General Manager Richard Hunt said. “We appreciate Crowley’s trust in our dedicated labor force and look forward to working together in the years to come.”
“Crowley traditionally on the towing business has transitioned to pushing an ATB,” Crowley Commercial Operations Director Coulston Van Gundy explained in an interview with Pacific Maritime. “We’ve found that pushing a vessel with fixed pins to be a safe, reliable method of moving oil.”
“As far as new products, the trend in the industry is when you have a routing operation, point A to point B or — A, B, C, D, however it might be – people are looking for more efficient methods of operation, more consistent, so that’s why we see more going to the ATBs,” Nichols said.
“As part of that transition, we’re even seeing people take older, more traditional products and put a notch in the sternum or barge and take an older tug and rebuild the full tow and put a pin system in to try to pick up that efficiency.”
Earlier in June, Crowley announced that its ship assist and harbor escort services group had taken delivery of a new powerful and maneuverable, yet compact tugboat, the Apollo.
After completing its final outfitting at shipbuilder Diversified Marine Inc. in Portland, Ore., it was deployed for service performing harbor escort and ship assist in the San Francisco Bay. Like its sister tug operated by Crowley, Hercules, the Apollo was designed by Robert Allan Ltd., and is said by Crowley to be the nation’s most powerful tug under 80 feet at 78 feet long with an estimated 94 tons of bollard pull.
“As sustainability requirements become more important in California and other ports while container ships become larger, Apollo will be well-suited for the Bay Area market,” Crowley Maritime said in a statement. “Operating on biofuel, the vessel’s fuel-efficient and lower carbon footprint results from a pair of Caterpillar Marine 3516 Tier IV-compliant engines that meet federal mandates and the State of California’s environmental regulations.”
“Maneuverability improves safety and allows for more efficient service,” Crowley Vice President Paul Manzi said. “With Apollo, we have a rare mix of high performance with an efficient design with lower carbon footprint. It’s leading the way in California and showing the industry what’s possible in light of the sustainability push that’s taking place.”