Marine Towing of Tampa’s fire-fighting tug Patriot

The following is sourced from ‘Tug Technology & Business’ – 2nd Quarter 2015

North American owners and operators of tugs that have a fire-fighting and pollution control function are squeezed between two environmentally sensitive areas, the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico.

They are also squeezed between two complementary sets of environmental regulations. One is the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP) 2013 rules, which deals with many sources of pollutants, including ballast water, bilge water, chemicals, and pollution from oil.

The other is the IMO Polar Code for ships operating in the remote and harsh regions of the Arctic and the Antarctic. This was officially adopted in May this year and is due to enter force in January 2017.

The inter-governmental Arctic Council has established a search and rescue agreement with regard to marine oil pollution preparedness and response in the region. There are clear zones of country responsibility and coast guard co-operation. Tugs and other workboats have a vital role to play in supporting coastguards in discharging each member country’s responsibilities within these zones.

The Gulf of Mexico is, in many ways an equally environmentally sensitive area. The region has extensive wetlands, mangrove forests, sea grass beds and coral reefs, which preserve the health of the region’s bay and estuarine ecosystems.

While workboats with a fire-fighting and pollution control role have to be ready to save lives and protect the environment in these two areas, they must also earn a living year round for their owners. Consequently, their capabilities to deal with any incidents have to be balanced with viable commercial performance.

Many tug owners in the region are now fully embracing the VGP directives and are using best management practices and best available technology to operate their vessels efficiently and to become environmentally compliant. Marine Towing of Tampa, in the USA, is one such company.

One of Marine Towing’s key objectives is to achieve VGP compliance with regard to pollution from oil, through the selection of appropriate oil-to-sea interface lubricants.

As well as meeting tough environmental standards, these lubricants have to meet other exacting requirements, including reducing labour costs and drydock time. Compatibility with the company’s existing equipment was important, as was operational performance and longevity. Finally, the target was to reduce vessel downtime and achieve more working hours.

Having evaluated various options, Marine Towing’s ocean-going escort assist, fire-fighting tug, the 75t bollard pull Patriot, has switched lubricants for its escort and towing winches and is now using high-performance Panolin hydraulic fluid and grease. Patriot is one of only a few tugboats in the USA that are capable of fighting fires in the open ocean. It has a capability of spraying nearly 12,000 gallons (44,000 litres) of water per minute at a distance of 400ft (122m).

To put that in perspective, Patriot can fill an average-sized domestic swimming pool in about one minute. Furthermore, the exterior hull of Patriot is protected by a deluge system. These capabilities make it a key potential response vessel in the event of a serious fire or potential pollution incident in either the Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic.

Panolin lubricants were selected by Marine Towing from a number of the environmentally acceptable lubricant (EAL) types that the US EPA accepts as complying with its VGP requirements. Furthermore, they met all the other criteria set out by the company to improve its bottom line performance.

Otis Montero, port engineer, Marine Towing, says, "We chose Panolin lubricants not only because of environmental compliance, but also because of the operational performance they deliver for our vessels.

Panolin spokesman Phil Cumberlidge believes the experience of Marine Towing points the way for others to follow. "Can owners of fire-fighting tugs be stewards of the environment while improving the bottom line? The answer is clearly yes."

Panolin EALs are used in thrusters, stern tubes, winches, stabilisers, steering gear and cables, on tugs as well as other workboats operating in the seas, inland waterways and lakes of North America, even in extreme climatic conditions.