Tugnology Hot Topics

Recently I attended the Tugnology conference at the Lancaster Hotel in London, England.  I have been to this conference previously, and as usual, it was very well organized and attended by tug industry stakeholders from around the world.  There were three hot topics this year which were of particular interest to me:


On Monday evening the conference opened with Kotug and Damen co-hosting the christening of the new hybrid Rotortug, the RT Evolution. This is Kotug’s second tug using the AKA-designed hybrid system, which was first presented at ITS conference in Singapore in 2008. Their earlier hybrid conversion of the tug RT Adriaan proved that the AKA system is capable of providing significant fuel savings and emissions reductions over the company’s conventional vessels. Kotug has drawn on their experience operating the RT Adriaan to assist AKA in refining and optimizing the design for their new ART 80-32 class vessels. The RT Evolution is the first of two new-build sister ships built by Damen.

The Bernardus, a Damen-designed hybrid, was debuted at last year’s ITS in Hamburg with much fanfare, but so far there has not been a follow up on the performance in actual service. I am hopeful we will see something from at next year’s ITS in Boston.


LNG tugs have also been a popular ITS/Tugnology topic over the past several years – one that is becoming more and more interesting.  On Tuesday, a paper by Robert Allan Ltd. (RAL) caught my attention, and sparked off some very interesting discussion in the audience. The paper presented an LNG tug design concept that had some very well thought out, and unexpected, solutions to some of the tricky problems presented by LNG fuel – such as where to locate the LNG tank and the vents.

The paper prompted an audience member to ask what the approximate additional cost of an LNG tug would be when compared to a similar conventional vessel. RAL indicated that, though this was a bit outside their scope, their understanding was that it was something in the order of a 40 to 60 percent increase. Ali Gurun of Sanmar then stood up and offered some insight into their recent experience building the first LNG tug, M/T Borgøy, launched in 2013. Ali commented that a significant component of the increased cost is the large volume required to store the LNG, which results in a larger boat than would be typical for a conventional vessel with the same output. A larger vessel brings with it the expectation of higher performance, outfitting, etc., which in turn drives costs even higher.  To deliver the same performance with the only difference being the LNG system, one could expect an increased cost of about 55 percent – delivering a larger boat with a higher overall level of expectations can cost as much as two times more.

Having a real LNG tug built and in service was a big topic of conversation over the coffee breaks. The vessel will finally provide the much needed “real-life” information that many operators have been looking for to frame their own debates about whether and when this technology might make sense for them.


At ITS in Hamburg last year, I co-presented a paper on tailoring design to suit a tugs real operating profile. Several other presenters also touched on this topic. Improving efficiency by using real operational data from tugs to assist in designing these vessels is getting more traction after several years of discussions related to hybrids. In addition, the increasing ease of collecting data is making this more feasible.

This year at Tugnology, Caterpillar presented a paper about using operational data for condition-based maintenance. Caterpillar has acquired a data analytics company (ESRG) to help propel their move into providing vessel data analysis as a service to vessel owners. They presented the results of a couple of recent demo projects, with emphasis on the ability to monitor equipment for condition-based maintenance.  Their concept is that vessel owners would outfit their boats with the necessary monitoring equipment, Caterpillar will house and analyze the data collected by this equipment and then provide guidance on preventative maintenance and alert vessel owners about equipment that may be near failure.

Caterpillar is certainly correct that if owners instrument their vessels and have the ability to have that data properly analyzed, there is great potential value and savings to be had. However, the part that piques my curiosity is the business model proposed. I am curious about whether owners will want to invest in all the equipment necessary to gather the data, and then hand over all that valuable information to an OEM.

I think that these are topics where we are just starting to scratch the surface and the next few years will have some interesting developments.