First Damen tug to be built in the USA begins operations
In July 2017, the first Damen tug to be built in the USA went into service with The Great Lakes Towing Company, based in Cleveland, Ohio. The first of an order totalling ten Stan Tug 1907 ICE vessels, she was built by sister company Great Lakes Shipyard and is named Cleveland. With the Jones Act continuing to require that vessels operating in US waters be built within the country, licensing agreements between Damen and local shipyards allow Damen to sell its designs into the US market while enabling American yards to offer tried and tested vessels to their customers.
Everyone’s a winner
Under an agreement signed in 2015 between the two organisations, Great Lakes Shipyard has the option to build a wide range of Damen vessels. Under the licence, Great Lakes Shipyard receives full construction, design and engineering support from Damen. The success of this business model is demonstrated by the fact that over 200 Damen vessels have been built under licence in the USA since the mid-1990s. These include eighty 26-metre patrol boats for the US Coast Guard, built by Bollinger Shipyards; 55 class, built at Horizon Boat Builders and Trinity Shipyard; and 25 Fast Crew Supplier 1605 class vessels built by Blount Boats. Licences for 58 Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters based on Damen’s 47m Stan Patrol 4708 have also been sold. While the initial agreement with Great Lakes Shipyard is for the series build of ten tugs for The Great Lakes Towing Company, the vessels will also be available to third party buyers on a priority basis.
The right vessel in the right place
The Stan Tug 1907 ICE is a compact design capable of 30 tons (27 tonnes) of bollard pull. Its relatively small size and high manoeuvrability make it ideal for the narrow waterways with their many low bridges that characterise the Great Lakes region. The ability to operate safely in icy waters is also essential given the very cold temperatures that occur there in the winter. The class can be found operating all over the world, from the cold waters of Russia to the much warmer seas around Qatar.
The decision by The Great Lakes Towing Company to replace a substantial portion of its venerable fleet was triggered in part in June 2016 when the US Coast Guard Subchapter M regulations came into force. Setting new inspection standards of seaworthiness for US towing vessels and establishing new rules for towing vessel safety management, the new regulations meant that the cost of upgrading many older tugs was simply not economic. For The Great Lakes Towing Company, however, it represented an opportunity to modernise its own fleet.
“When it came to building our own boats, we decided that it made sense to work with Damen to use one of their existing, proven designs for our service on the Great Lakes,” says Joe Starck, President of Great Lakes Shipyard and The Great Lakes Towing Company, and so the decision was taken to sign up for a Damen license to build ten ICE-class Damen Stan Tugs 1907.
The Cleveland got off to a good start. “Her first vessel assists went without a hitch,” Starck continues. “The feedback then and since has been very positive. One of the pilots on the first day even commented that the new tug made manoeuvring much easier. The boat has performed even better than we expected, without the need for the typical “tweaks” that are normally required after completion of a new tug.”
As was expected, the build of the Cleveland was something of a learning experience, not least because various European working practises had to be translated into their American equivalents, and numerous adaptations had to be made to meet USA regulations. However, with these achieved for the Cleveland and the production process now fully optimised, the follow-on hulls will be completed more quickly and efficiently. “Damen was always there when we needed them,” continued Joe Starck. “It has truly been a pleasure to work with them, and we have really enjoyed getting to know the entire Damen team. They’re a first-class organisation.”
For Great Lakes Shipyard, the Damen licensing programme is an idea whose time has come, and the series build of the Stan Tug 1907s will be the proof that it can deliver cost efficiencies in the USA. Joe Starck hopes that this will lead to Damen using his yard to build Damen designs for stock just as it does elsewhere, but this time for the US market. This is not something that is currently done as a standard business practice anywhere in the country, but he believes the time is right for it to start. “I think that the licensing agreement between Damen and Great Lakes Shipyard is bringing more awareness of the idea into the US market. The cat is out of the bag because there are now several operators using Damen designs, and that will likely lead others to recognise that it’s not such a big deal to convert Damen designs for operation under the US flag.”
With the Cleveland demonstrating to the US market that there is much more to Damen than just fast patrol boats and crew suppliers, that process of recognition is set to accelerate.