DISCOVER Magazine #7

Great Lakes Shipyard blazes a trail

Published in category: Harbour & Terminal


Technical cooperation in the USA

Joe Starck
Great Lakes Towing Company

The Great Lakes Towing Company and its shipyard have a history going back to 1899. From its headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie, it operates a number of specialist divisions, but its main businesses are building and repairing ships, and ship assist services including towage. The 40 tugs of The Great Lakes Towing Company operate out of 11 ports on the U.S. Great Lakes, and many of them are classics, with their hulls dating back many decades.

Two years ago, Great Lakes Towing Company President Joe Starck began talking with Damen regarding the possibilities of the latter’s licensing programme. As non-US company, Damen is prohibited by the Jones Act from building ships in the country, but Mr Starck recognised the benefits of being able to offer local operators proven Damen designs constructed at its Shipyard in Cleveland, called Great Lakes Shipyard. Since then Mr Starck and his team have discussed the advantages with customers that were looking for designs ready to build across a range of vessel classes, gradually building interest in the Damen proposition and explaining the cost benefits that can be

Subchapter M

Then, in June 2016, the US Coast Guard Subchapter M regulations came into force, setting new inspection standards of seaworthiness for U.S. towing vessels, and establishing new rules for towing vessel safety management. This will have a major impact on the US towage industry, with many tugs likely to be scrapped in the face of uneconomic upgrade costs. For The Great Lakes Towing Company, however, it represented an opportunity to modernise its own fleet.

When it came to building our own vessels, 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.

Damen license to build 10 ICE-class Damen Stan Tugs 1907

And so the decision was taken to sign up for a Damen license to build 10 ICE-class Damen Stan Tugs 1907. The 19-metre Stan Tug 1907 is a good fit for The Great Lakes Towing Company. Its compact size and low profile is ideal for a region where much of the towing takes place in narrow waterways with lots of low bridges. The ICE capability is also vital on the Great Lakes where many harbours freeze over in the winter.

Building the Stan Tugs 1907 ICE

The first of the series is under construction now, with the second due to start shortly. The initial phase of the build has been a steep learning curve for both sides.

The first tug is due for completion in June 2017

A good deal of work has gone into converting aspects of the European design to meet US requirements, and all the measurements have had to be converted from metric to imperial. With labour expensive in the USA, the yard and Damen have also been working together on finding ways to maximise efficiencies during the build process. “It’s been a very good working relationship,” continued Mr Starck.

Damen has been very supportive and I think they have learned as much as we have as we modify the engineering package for a more cost effective building process.

The first tug is due for completion in June 2017, and the second before the end of the year. The remainder will be delivered over the next four to five years. “Of course, if a customer wants one or more of the Stan Tugs 1907 ICE then we will happily put them at the top of the list for the next ones coming off the line,” says Mr Starck, “and our other shipbuilding and repair activities will continue as usual.”

tugboat keel laying ceremony

The future is licensing

For Great Lakes Shipyard, the Damen licensing programme is an idea whose time has come, and the series build of the Stan Tugs 1907 will be the proof that it can deliver cost efficiencies in the USA. He 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 practise 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 brought more awareness of the idea into the US market. Now the cat is out of the bag because there are 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 that in mind, it looks like an interesting few years ahead for USA / European cooperation in ship design and build.

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