URAG Tough times ahead for tugs demand smart solutions
The recent delivery by Damen of two ASD Tugs 2411 to long-established German towage company URAG marks more than just another sale for one of the world’s most successful tug series. The changing nature of the shipping industry in Europe and beyond is having an impact on the towage sector, forcing operators to reassess the capabilities and economic characteristics of their vessels.
Few know the ups and downs of the towage industry better than URAG, which has been in business for 125 years this year. The key to its long existence so far has been its focus on its vibrant local market that includes Hamburg and Bremerhaven two of Europe’s busiest ports, and building long term relationships with the various yards and ship owners. It’s a model that has worked well for over a century, but in what may be the biggest change since the introduction of containerisation in the 1960s, the towage business is now facing new challenges that place new demands on those in the sector and hitting profitability.
Michael Staufeldt, Managing Director at URAG is happy to acknowledge that towage is an exciting but tough business. The driving force behind the changes the sector faces is the evolution of the vessels that it serves, with both container ships and cruise lines growing dramatically in size over recent years. Consolidation among ship owners is also resulting in a smaller number of larger groups, and the increased purchasing power that comes with that. Many smaller tugs that were purchased just five years ago are now facing obsolescence as ports demand that the new giant ships are served by tugs with minimum power thresholds.
However towage companies cannot afford to purchase tugs that are kept for just the largest ships while maintaining fleets of smaller tugs for the smaller vessels. The new assets must be kept busy so as to pay their way, and that means that they must be able to support the regular traffic in a costeffective way despite their potential higher fuel consumption. The requirements from the shipping majors for suppliers to offer a low cost service across a spread of ports is also expected to drive consolidation across the smaller towage firms as they seek to lower costs and provide the geographical coverage that the customers want.
In short, for towage firms to survive in the new business environment they need to have the right assets and costs under tight control. URAG’s response was to explore the latest in tug technology that might enable them to deliver the service while at the same time minimizing operating costs and delivering vessels with a longer working life, and it was the search for these that led them to the Damen Shipyards Group.
Michael Staufeldt and his colleagues understood that new technology and designs held the key to simultaneously achieving a lower total cost of ownership while complying with new regulations, meeting new environmental procedures and satisfying their customers’ demands. Damen was already known to them with its reputation for quality and innovation, and an analysis of its product range showed that the ASD Tug 2411 matched URAG’s operating requirements perfectly. Its ability to manoeuvre in the constricted waters of ports and locks, together with a proven design that has seen continuous updating over its lifetime, made it the natural choice. Easy maintenance, first class engines and a bridge layout that made it easy for the crew to operate where all additional factors in the decision. The Volkswagen of tugs, was how Mr Staufeldt described it, and a GTi at that!
URAG’s first ASD Tug 2411 was delivered in 2013, and it was the positive experience with her that led the company to decide to purchase two more. Named Brake and Perfect, they were to join their sister ship Prompt in the port of Hamburg under the URAG subsidiary Lütgens und Reimers (L&R).
The order was placed in September 2014 and work began immediately on the twin vessels at the Damen’s partner yard Song Thu (Da Nang) in Vietnam. Like the Prompt, the two new ASD Tugs 2411 feature excellent manoeuvrability and outstanding towing capabilities with a bollard pull in excess of 70 tonnes. At 24.5m they are ideal for restricted waterways as well as open water assignments.
Extra thick plate was used in the construction, along with extra brackets and fendering, to ensure maximum durability. The Brake and Perfect are also economically-efficient in terms of both low fuel consumption and operating costs due to their design and reliability. From Vietnam the tugs were shipped to Damen Maaskant Shipyards Stellendam for a final inspection before being officially handed over to URAG on Thursday 19 March 2015.
“They arrived in their new home of Hamburg at 1700 hours the following Monday,” said URAG’s Michael Staufeldt, “and by 1330 hours the next day were on their first job. The crews are very enthusiastic about the new arrivals given their positive experiences with Prompt, and are looking forward to optimizing them for their specific duties.” Together the three vessels now represent the core fleet of L&R.
URAG now has the tugs it needs to handle the very largest vessels yet also offer a competitive service to the many smaller ships that arrive at Germany’s leading ports. Damen’s problem-solving culture combined with paying close attention to the pressures and aspirations of operators right across the maritime industry continues to result in new vessels that combine performance with economic efficiency. It’s no wonder that URAG’s Perfect is the 88th ASD Tug 2411 to be delivered.