Vessels: The Ghosts of Cove Point Vanish

Monday, November 24, 2003

It was the late 1970s and El Paso Energy ran a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal known as Cove Point in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay — midway between the East Coast ports of Baltimore, Md. and Hampton Roads, Va. As the demand for gas waned, the terminal ceased operations after only two years, and it sat dormant for nearly two decades. Today the market for LNG is rising fast, with positive ripple effects being felt across the maritime niche. Two tug companies — McAllister Towing and Moran Towing, were tapped to help bring the terminal back to life, winning the contract to dock some of the world's most expensive ships. Ensuring that the job is done correctly has required a significant investment in boats and training. — By Regina P. Ciardiello

Despite the promise of an alternate energy source on the heels of the mid-1970s energy crisis, the demand for LNG never quite materialized. Jump ahead nearly a quarter of a century, and the projected demand v. supply numbers are far more impressive, and the production and transportation of LNG is booming.

"LNG consumption in the U.S. was comparatively low for many years," said Buckley McAllister, V.P. and General Counsel of McAllister Towing. "Now the demand is expected to outstrip the supply." And McAllister should be keenly aware of this fact, as they, along with Moran Towing, will be operating two of their own tugs that were custom built for the Cove Point Terminal - the Emily Anne McAllister and A.J. McAllister.

Almost identical to their the two sister tugs built before them — Janet M. and Vicki M. McAllister — the Emily Anne and A.J. will have the ability to not only pump out 11,000 gpm, but will also be among the first-privately owned tugs on the U.S. East Coast to hold FiFi 1 firefighting classification as awarded by ABS.

Each measuring 96 ft., with a breadth of 34 ft. and depth of 14.9 ft., the tugs were constructed at Eastern Shipbuilding in Panama City, Fla.

With the Emily Anne delivered to McAllister this past summer, the A.J., which underwent successful sea trials the end of October, is scheduled for delivery to McAllister in early November 2003 where it will undergo a "try out" period at various ports until its deployment at Cove Point at the start of the New Year.

The fire fighting equipment found onboard this pair of technologically advanced tugs - FiFi equipment that is second only to that found on the most advanced offshore services vessels or municipal firefighting boats - consists of two Nijhuis pumps with a pair of SKUM remote controlled monitors with foam injection capability.

The Emily Anne and A.J. will also employ a 1,100 gpm deluge system that is a spray-like sprinkler system coating the tug's exterior in extreme heat situations.

"The engines for the firefighting equipment are almost as big as the mafin engines," according to Buckley. "Our new boats have roughly quadruple the firefighting of the Janet and Vicki in terms of gpm."

According to Glynn Grantham, president of In-Mar Systems, New Orleans, La., which is the distributor for SKUM products in the U.S. and Mexico, both fire pumps are driven by their own dedicated engines - unlike the traditional practice of driving the pumps off the main engines. "We can assure that with the (tugs') engines off that the monitors (dedicated engines) would push the tug at three knots without the main engines running; the fire monitors are similar to jet engines," Grantham says.

With each monitor able to expel 3,500 lbs. of force spraying streams of water that measure approximately 3.5 in. of diameter, this would not be a practice that would be heralded without caution. To protect against personnel onboard the vessel or tug in distress, the tugs' water cannons can be configured to resemble that of a duck bill, which squeezes the water flow via a device at the end of the nozzle to provide a fogging effect - rather than a high-powered, steady stream. This process, according to Grantham, is especially effective when trying to perform rescue operations on tankers or oil rigs - a logical solution for tugs working at the Cove Point Terminal.

Calling upon Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle, Wash. to design these technologically advanced tugs, McAllister enlisted the expertise of Jonathan Parrot, Jensen's director of engineering, who worked with the company to customize Jensen's design. "We used a plum bow (instead of raked) so that the tugs would be able to do barge assist work," according to Buckley.

McAllister also reduced the size of the tugs' pilot house on the Emily Anne and the A.J. so that they could get up close and personal anywhere on the ship.

Other modifications included the decision to use Schottel drives, which was an easy one for McAllister - the company's first Z-drive tug, the Brooklyn still runs successfully on Schottel equipment. Constructed in 1985, the tug, which currently operates out of Philadelphia, set a model for the company in terms of Z-drive tugs. "The initial changes on the tugs were the Schottel drives," Buckley said. "We've been very happy with them and have ended up with a great service record because of them."

Zero Tolerance

When Dominion Energy decided to resurrect the Cove Point Terminal from El Paso Energy, the new operator then bid out the terminal's capacity to three shippers who would call there - BP, Shell and Statoil - who immediately enlisted a "Zero Tolerance Policy" in terms of safety, hence the FiFi 1 on all four tugs. "The reason they are (the tugs) FiFi 1 is because the shippers at Cove Point requested to have advanced firefighting tugs," Buckley said. "It's all part of the zero tolerance safety culture connected with the LNG terminals."

Until the Janet McAllister, which was introduced with much fanfare in New York Harbor in July 2001, McAllister had not constructed a Z-drive tug since the Brooklyn made its debut. Things changed however when the possibility of the Cove Point Terminal started to become a reality.

"From 1985 until about five years ago our customers did not put a premium on Z-drives," Buckley said. "The Cove Point Terminal shippers have put a premium on safety, and are willing to pay for custom built tugs."

Following the RFP that was issued by the shipping trio in the spring of 2002, the contract was awarded to McAllister and Moran who each bid on half the tug requirements at the terminal. According to Buckley, his company wasted no time in the construction process at Eastern Shipbuilding. "We started building the Emily Anne so that a FiFi 1 tug would be available from the first day of operation at the terminal - July 2003," he said.

With four tug companies trying to get a piece of this contract, Brian McAllister, president of the company that bears his name, notes that the decision to choose his company's services is not based upon the tugs themselves. "We submitted our specs of our boats and our specs met all their shipping requirements," he said. "But why we were picked only the customer can tell for sure."

Brian also said that the shippers not only got involved in the bidding process, but with the training of both Moran's and McAllister's onboard and shoreside crews.

"These shippers have extremely knowledgeable marine people who know and understand precise requirements that they want from the tugs that are available," Brian said. "This includes escort capabilities, horsepower, bollard pull, firefighting and most importantly - local, highly trained backup crews."

Both McAllister and Moran held crew training courses at MSI in Newport, R.I. on specially-designed simulators that re-create both the bridge of the ship and bridge of the tug in two separate rooms, which allows the docking pilots to interact easily with tug crews. According to Buckley, the docking pilots and tug masters took a three-day course curriculum that was part of the MSI training sessions, which included a presentation on the properties of LNG. "The shippers have been focused on getting docking pilots and tug crews to review policies and procedures for docking tankers and for overseeing exactly how ship docking services were going to be performed," Buckley said.

Brian McAllister was amazed at the extent of the terminal specific training that was offered to his crew and shoreside personnel - training, which went above and beyond the general legal requirements. "When you stop to think, we've been in the shipdocking business for over 100 years. We may meet with customers, such as Maersk, on certain occasions to review operations. Rarely have we had customers devote resources to such specialized training," he said. "The extent of the training was remarkable. But it is what can now be expected in zero tolerance conditions such as Cove Point."

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