DISCOVER Magazine #7

Expanding operations in Western Australia

Published in category: Harbour & Terminal

Damen has recently had the pleasure of delivering a pair of Azimuth Tractor Drive Tugs to Mackenzie Marine & Towage (MMT) of Esperance, Australia. This marks the latest stage of a relationship between the two companies that goes back over 10 years. Both Damen and MMT share the distinction of being family-owned companies. Other shared attributes include ambition and an urge to innovate.

Building a towage business

The current managing director of MMT is Sean Mackenzie, who took over from his father Hugh in 2007, but it was Hugh’s father, Don Mackenzie, who started the company back in 1950 in Esperance, a town located on the south coast of Western Australia. From the beginning, and to this day, MMT has been involved in commercial fishing, but in 1972 Don and Hugh Mackenzie won their first harbor towage license for operations in the Port of Esperance, using a locally built tug boat that they named Cape Le Grand. 18-metres in length with a single screw, she had a bollard pull of 12 tonnes.

The Cape Le Grand served Esperance up until 1985 when a new tug was constructed. Named Cape Le Grand 2, this new addition to MMT was the first harbour tug in Australia to be built in aluminium. 23-metres in length and with twin propellers, her 30 tonnes of bollard pull delivered a substantial increase in capability. As traffic at the port grew in size and quantity a second, identical tug, was built and launched in 1995. Continuing the MMT tradition of naming its vessels after local landmarks, this was christenedthe Cape Arid.

In 2002 a major upgrade at Esperance made it the deepest port in southern Australia, capable of handling capsize ships up to 200,000 tonnes and Panamax vessels up to 75,000 tonnes. The upgrade not only helped bring its iron ore exports up to over 11 million tonnes a year, it also expanded the ports capacity to export bulk grain and fertiliser. Clearly more powerful tugs were required, but they still needed to be compact so as to maximise their efficiency in the harbour. The Mackenzie family responded by building the Cape Pasley using an Allan Mcllwain design. While just 22-metres, she has a bollard pull of 65 tonnes, making her the first truly compact tug in Australia.

Damen ATD Tugs 2412: Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin

MMT purchased its first Damen tug, an ASD 2411 Tug called Shoal Cape, in 2006 and at the same time retired the two aluminium vessels from Esperance. The ASD 2411 was such a success that in 2013 a second was purchased with 70 tonnes bollard pull to operate alongside its sister ship. Today the Hellfire Bay, Shoal Cape and the Cape Pasley continue to be MMT’s main harbour towage vessels in Esperance and all are reported to be doing a magnificent job.

The next generations

Since Sean Mackenzie took the helm of the business in 2007, he has seen many changes in Australia’s marine economy, from the boom in marine construction in the north west from 2008 to 2015, through to its recent decline. But MMT has benefited from maintaining a clear vision and gradually expanding its fleet to include multi-purpose workboats, punts and barges so as to provide a wider range of port services. It has also purchased and constructed five vessels for use in its coastal charter division, where it is a leading supplier of vessels for bareboat chartering.

Furthermore, in 2015 MMT formed a joint venture called Wide Bay Shipping with another, like-minded, company in Queensland which supplied harbour towage services in Port Alma and the harbour at Bundaberg. Operations have since been extended to the Port of Eden and the joint venture now has six tugs active on the eastern seaboard of Australia.

2016 presented a new opportunity following the merger of the port authorities at Esperance, Albany and Bunbury to create the Southern Ports Authority. The new body called for tenders to provide a combined towage package for the ports of Esperance and Bunbury. MMT competed with its existing Esperance fleet plus, following consultations with users of Bunbury Port, a proposal to provide two new ATD 2412 Twin Fin Tugs from Damen. With little time to conduct a detailed assessment Sean Mackenzie placed the order anyway, taking confidence from his prior experience of Damen tugs that the new additions would perform according to their specification.

Both Damen and MMT share the distinction of being family-owned companies. Other shared attributes include ambition and an urge to innovate.

The MMT bid was successful and the tugs, named the Cape Naturaliste and the Cape Leeuwin, were ordered in September of that year and delivered just 7 months later in April 2017. These are the first tractor tugs that MMT has operated and to date have been voted a great success, further cementing the close relationship that has developed between the two companies.

Today the family tradition is as strong as ever, with Sean’s daughter Brooke working as an MMT tug master in Fremantle and his son Jack a crew member on the ATD 2412s in Bunbury. Sean continues to look for new opportunities and, with two more Australian port towage contracts coming up for tender in the near future, he is looking forward to working closely once again with Damen as he embarks on the next stage of MMT’s development.

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