DISCOVER Magazine #7

Manoeuvring in restricted waterways

Published in category: Harbour & Terminal

Finding the right tug for the right job

Stefan Staykov, Port Fleet 99Stefan Staykov
Marketing & Contracting Deputy Manager
Port Fleet 99

Port Fleet 99 is based in the Port of Varna, on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Varna is Bulgaria’s largest coastal city and seaside resort, the headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy and a major tourist centre. As well as the port itself, there are also a number of shipyards in the region. The company began in 1969 as a department of the port, but in 1999 was spun off as a separate business providing towage services to vessels leaving and entering the harbour. In 2002 the company was purchased by PFS Ltd Sofia, a Bulgarian maritime company.

For many years, Port Fleet 99 was the only provider of towage, mooring and associated services in the Varna region. In 2003 two smaller towage companies, each with three tugs, became competitors of Port Fleet 99. Today the company operates ten tugs along with a 100 tonne floating crane for cargo handling, and employs around 150 people across the business.

The current fleet is quite diverse. Three of the tugs were built in Singapore and deliver 2,400 bhp of power and 30 tonnes of bollard pull. The remainder were built in Russia and have either 1,200 or 1,600 bhp of power output and 17 to 18 tonnes of bollard pull. While they are up to 40 years old, the Russian vessels are in good condition, thanks in part to the large quantity of spare parts held by Port Fleet 99, a legacy from the days of central planning.


The age and composition of the current fleet does however bring challenges. The Varna region is a busy one for maritime traffic with the port an important transport hub for imports and exports in and out of the country, and the nearby shipyards are doing well with vessel owners from across the Black and Mediterranean Seas attracted by keen pricing and good quality. Mr Stefan Staykov of Port Fleet 99 picks up the story.

“The problem here in Varna is one of space. The waters within the port are very restricted and the docks are very narrow, making manoeuvring difficult. Our existing tugs are up to 30 metres in length, with controllable-pitch propellers in nozzles capable of a maximum angle of turn of just 30 degrees. What we really need are tugs that are compact and manoeuvrable, yet powerful.” Some of the docks are also quite shallow, and the tugs at full power can stir up a lot of silt. “The filters for the engine cooling inlets can quickly get clogged up, with a negative impact on performance and efficiency.”

The solution that Port Fleet 99 chose was the purchase of a Damen Stan Tug 1907. This popular harbour tug is just 19.5 metres in length, but delivers 28 tonnes of bollard pull. Twin Caterpillar C32 diesels deliver 2,000 bhp at 1,800 rpm and the nozzles ensure excellent manoeuvrability with 45 degrees of turn. The closed cooling water system for both the main and auxiliary engines ensures that silting up and subsequent overheating is not a problem.

“The design is just perfect for our requirements,” continues Mr Staykov, “and of course the quality is excellent. When the Alexandra, as the Stan Tug 1907 will be called, arrives it will be far more manoeuvrable than its predecessors. Also many of the vessels that call here are quite small and have low freeboards. This means that the larger tugs can sometimes end up pushing on the railings rather than the hulls and, as you can imagine, their captains and crews do not appreciate that!

The entrance to the port is also narrow and often congested, which makes the Stan Tug 1907 even more attractive. We have also found Damen an easy company to deal with. Its representatives made a very good impression from the outset. In negotiations they came across as thorough and principled, and since then Damen has become a trusted partner.

…and opportunities

Mr Staykov is looking forward to the arrival of the Alexandra.” I think she will make a big impression on the users of the port. A lot of people will get to see just how good she is, and that will encourage demand for towage capabilities of this type and quality.”

The future holds out the prospect of even more demand for Port Fleet 99’s services, with the government planning a largescale modernisation of the Port of Varna, including a new deepwater container terminal and a new grain terminal. “It will bring agricultural export business back to Bulgaria and Varna that had moved to more efficient ports outside our borders,” he explains. With the government keen to accelerate the development plans, this should provide a welcome boost for the ambitions of Port Fleet 99, as well as for the Varna region and Bulgaria itself, in the years ahead.

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