DISCOVER Magazine #7

Port Nelson: preparing for the future

Published in category: Harbour & Terminal

Dave_Duncan_Harbour_Master_Port_NelsonDave Duncan
Harbour Master
Port Nelson

Positioned at the top of New Zealand’s South Island at the head of Tasman Bay, Port Nelson is located in an area of great natural beauty. The surrounding region is known for its fruit and wine, while forestry and the fish processing industry are also important sources of employment and economic activity.

Jointly owned by the Nelson City Council and the Tasman District Council, Port Nelson is a vital hub for the regional economy. Over 150 years old, it is the largest fishing port in Australasia and each year around 2.7 million tonnes of cargo including 100,000 TEU pass through it. In 2015-2016 it had 821 vessel visits.

Until recently the port had two tugs to handle the wide range of vessels that use its facilities. The newer of the two, the Huria Matenga, has a bollard pull of 36 tonnes and came into service in 1984. The WH Parr, named after a long-serving general manager who oversaw the transformation of the harbour in the second half of the 20th century, is over 40 years old and has a bollard pull of 24 tonnes. However, as part of an investment programme designed to prepare the port both ashore and afloat for increased activity, in September 2016 Port Nelson took delivery of a new Damen ASD Tug 2310.

Challenging conditions

The new, more powerful tug is much needed. In recent years the port has been steadily receiving ever larger ships, with vessels of up to 248 metres becoming regular visitors. Port Nelson is also not the easiest harbour in which to manoeuver. At 4.5 metres, the tidal range is the largest to be found anywhere in New Zealand, and it creates strong currents. Added to that are strong winds that can come up suddenly from both the south and north, and parts of the harbor are exposed.

Harbour Master Dave Duncan is confident that the port always operates within reasonable safety margins with its current fleet of meticulously-maintained tugs, fully qualified crews and strict safety protocols. However, he is also highly conscious that changing weather conditions can erode safety margins very quickly.

He cites a car carrier as an example. “In a 15-knot breeze, that vessel has 18.6 tonnes of force acting against it,” he explains, “but if the wind picks up to 20 knots, the force acting against it can suddenly become 33.6 tonnes. In a 25 knot wind the force increases again to 52 tonnes. What we wanted to do was to improve the port’s capacity to deal with larger ships – in all conditions – and to preserve our excellent safety record.”

“With 50 tonnes of bollard pull the new tug will see our safety margins being much improved on the bigger ships,” he continued. “Now we’ve got the power we need to slow or stop even the larger vessels moving forward, and to pull or push them against strong winds and tides.”

Confidence through communication

The order was placed in late 2015 after extensive research. “We visited the Damen yard in Changde, China, and inspected a recently completed ASD Tug 2310 in Shanghai,” Dave explained. “This clearly demonstrated to us the quality of the yard and its vessels, and its high environmental standards. The fact that the ASD Tug 2310 we saw was being built without an owner’s rep on site gave us confidence that we would receive a quality product without needing to commit significant resources to overseeing the build, despite the distances involved. Although there was a lot of correspondence going back and forth, this was professionally handled by the Damen project managers using emails and phone calls. This made a huge difference for us in terms of the ease of the build with the open and easy flow of information from Damen meaning that we did not need to send a permanent supervisor.”

The Port Nelson team did require certain modification to the standard ASD Tug 2310 design to meet their particular needs. These include upgrading the bollard pull from 46 to 50 tonnes, and the fitting of Panama chocks through the stern plates. Damen also built and installed a gangway to a design provided by Port Nelson.

The new ASD Tug 2310 is named Toia, which means ‘to pull’ in Maori, and she travelled the 7280 nautical miles from Changde to Port Nelson on her own hull with a Dutch crew aboard. She entered the harbour escorted by the Huria Matenga and WH Parr and three Waka Ama boats (large canoes with outriggers) crewed by volunteers from the Mahitahi Outrigger Canoe Club.

“This means we are good for another 30 years, judging by how we have maintained our other tugboats,” Dave concluded. “I’d like to think we’ll get another 3-5 years out of the old tugs, but I have been issued with a challenge to find some work for them. In the meantime, we are all very pleased with our new tug, how it operates and what we can achieve with it. The quality of the finish impresses everyone who sees it for the first time.”

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