GSS Marine Services: small vessel, big distances
GSS Marine Services
It’s not often that we get to write about trans-oceanic voyages in a publication that is dedicated to vessels that work close to the shore in harbours and terminals. However a client of Damen recently passed on to us a great story regarding his 26-metre Shoalbuster that in the space of a few months travelled nearly 15,000 nautical miles, which included crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice!
GSS Marine Services BV is based in Scotland and operates a 17-strong fleet of multi-role workboats, most of which are between 20 and 30 metres in length. As well as supporting the UK’s Royal Navy at its main submarine base at Faslane, the company undertakes a wide range of projects that include towing, construction and dredging support, anchor handling, surveying and wind farm support. While Europe is the source of the bulk of its business GSS Marine Services undertakes assignments all over the world.
Heading for the tropics and the equator
This international and indeed entrepreneurial outlook is why, back at the beginning of March 2016, when a broker rang up GSS Managing Director Jan Peute and offered a long-distance job, it was just another day in the office. At the time the SMS Shoalbuster, a Damen Shoalbuster 2609 that had been in service with GSS since 2009, was available and in Stathelle on Norway’s Skagerrak coast. The job was to tow some floating pipes 4,400 nautical miles south west across the Atlantic to Porto Plata in the Dominican Republic. The voyage went ahead, taking around four weeks, and passed without incident.
This was an impressive feat for a workboat designed for operations in shallow waters with a draught of just 3.6 metres. However, the Shoalbuster 2609, a mid-sized model in Damen’s Shoalbuster range, is exceptionally capable for its length. Powered by twin 1100 HP engines, it has a top speed of 11.4 knots and can carry up to 126m³ of fuel oil. Despite being optimised for coastal operations, its raised bow and foredeck allows it to hold a Bureau Veritas unrestricted navigation certificate.
With any long distance trip of this type, the question is always; how to bring her back home while keeping her gainfully employed. Fortunately while the vessel was midway across the Atlantic a second opportunity arose. However, the destination was in the opposite direction to Europe; the Port of Vitoria on the south eastern coast of Brazil, 3,700 nautical miles to the south. Nonetheless it was too good a job to turn down so, with a fresh crew, the SMS Shoalbuster left Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic towing a backhoe dredger, crossed the equator and arrived safely at Vitoria.
And back home again
Yet again, fortune was with them and a third job had come up, that would bring her back across the Atlantic to Europe. This time the destination was Setubal in Portugal, 4,000 nautical miles heading north east and the job was towing a crane barge.
This time the weather did create some challenges on the way and a delay resulted from the need to protect the crane on board the barge. However this allowed the Shoalbuster and its crane barge to arrive in Setubal in good shape after a long ocean voyage. Rather than wait for a new assignment she then headed up to Rotterdam for routine maintenance. The total distance sailed since leaving Norway was 14,572 nautical miles.
“We had a lot of luck,” admitted Jan Peute. “When the SMS Shoalbuster arrived in Porto Plata there weren’t any local tugs available for the Brazil job, creating an opportunity for us. And we were very pleased to get the crane barge towing assignment back across the Atlantic. But this is often the way it is in the towage sector; the brokers are always looking for tugs around the world.”
“I am very happy with the way the SMS Shoalbuster performed,” he continued. “On her return, all she need was routine maintenance. There were no technical issues during her time way. The quality of the build really came through.”
In addition to the SMS Shoalbuster, GSS Marine Services also operates two of the larger Shoalbuster 3209 class as part of its 17-strong workboat fleet. Its most recent acquisition, the Wil S, was delivered in April 2016 and is now providing port towage services in Venezuela. Her sister-ship the Liz F meanwhile is operating from Abu Dhabi, towing rock barges between Oman and the emirate. Proof indeed that for the GSS Shoalbuster fleet, distances of any length are really not a problem!