Bouchard inks ATB tugs

Bouchard Transportation has penned an order for a pair of tugs under what appears to be a broader campaign to cash in on rising demand for Jones Act tonnage.

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What's an ATB?

US product tanker owner American Petroleum Tankers defines an ATB as a tank-barge that is mechanically linked with a paired tug that fits into a notch at the stern of the barge.

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In a statement the Melville, New York-based operator identified the recipient of the contract to construct the 6,000-hp units as VT Halter Marine.

A spokeswoman tells TradeWinds that the vessels are scheduled for delivery in 2016, which is when the duo will be married with existing Bouchard tugs.

The company plans to equip the Bouchard Boys and Evening Light with Intercon Coupler Systems, which will turn the units into articulated-tug barges (ATBs).

According to VT Halter construction is scheduled to start in the third quarter of this year at its Moss Point Marine facility in Escatawpa, Mississippi.

Observers say they aren’t surprised that the Vision Technology Systems offshoot landed the deal since Bouchard, which failed to shed light on pricing, has been a customer for some time.

While some owners of Jones Act tankers and ATBs are worried about the rapid expansion of the US cabotage fleet, which is susceptible to even the slightest shift in supply and demand due to its size, one says today’s order “shouldn’t be cause for concern”.

This is because the tugs are going to be linked to existing barges, which suggests domestic carrying capacity will not change when the duo hits the water unless the barges Bouchard chooses to use are not actively trading in the coastwise segment, the owner explained.

Bouchard is a family-owned company founded in 1918 that bills itself as the largest independent operator of ocean-going petroleum barges and ATBs in the US.

The owner is active on all four of the nation’s coasts, including the Great Lakes, and currently boasts a fleet of 25 barges with carrying capacities of up to 252,000-barrels a piece and 21 tugs ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 horsepower.

As TradeWinds has reported demand for ATBs has been on the rise over the past few years due in large part to the shale oil revolution and renaissance of crude production in North America. Kirby Corp, Moran Towing and Seacor Holdings have all jumped on the bandwagon.

While the cost of construction depends on a variety of variables like delivery date, size and other specifications market sources claim projects can carry price tags as high as $80m, which may not come as a surprise since days rates have topped $50,000 in recent months.

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