Michael Allan of Orkney Towage Ltd shared his story with us.
After starting off my seagoing career on cargo vessels and gaining my mates ticket I joined Orkney Towage in 1995. I started off on deck as an AB before moving up to mate. I feel starting off as deckhand really helped me understand the towage industry better before sailing as mate. This is a completely different way to spend a career at sea. It is a diverse job and having an insight into working on deck was very valuable before moving up in rank. I have been sailing as tugmaster for 16 years now, and although you never stop learning, I feel I have a deep understanding of ASD tug driving now but I can still remember looking round the bridge on my first day in command for my training tugmaster. I was alone and felt quite nervous not only for myself but also for the crew as I was going solo for the first time and we all know the perils of towage jobs and what can go wrong very quickly. Thankfully my career as tugmaster has been trouble free and I feel I have gained the respect from my crew as I have for them. Working for Orkney Towage has been very enjoyable on the whole. It has been very varied, especially in the last decade as we have been very involved in the renewable sector deploying sea turbines and offshore wind turbines and along with coastal towage of barges around the north of Scotland and the west coast, I have a varied experience of tug handling.
Primarily our bread and butter is at the Flotta oil jetty berthing vlcc’s alongside the jetty and previously working with LNG tankers. In recent years Scapa flow has been found to be the perfect place to transfer cargos of not only crude oil through the ship to ship but also LNG cargos. We supply the towage for all of these operations and were very happy to complete the world’s first transfer of LNG. These operations along with the towage jobs with the cruise liners in Kirkwall can be very testing. Only yesterday, which was my first day back on shift, we worked 14 hours to complete different jobs. Sometimes we have several days alongside without doing towage jobs and then the next few days are spent with 12 to 14 hours a day tugging.
We, as a company, chose SeaWays Global as our trainers as we felt that the well-structured course with highly experienced and professional instructors along with the state-of-the-art simulator seemed a great deal. The trainers also had an invaluable amount of expertise in the towage industry. We felt that our tug masters had plenty of experience in our own little pond up here but felt that there was always things to improve on such as fuel consumption during towage jobs and all-around general safe running of the vessels could all be brushed up on.
Working a tug in Orkney can be very interesting, to say the least as we all know the weather can be classed as inclement and along with working alongside the Pentland Firth, Britain’s strongest tidal area, we need to have a full concentration at all times. Obviously working within Scapa flow it is classed as inshore waters but I can assure you the waters in here can turn very nasty at times. Hopefully next year Orkney Towage is hoping to have new tonnage to work with and this has raised some serious questions regarding tug design. We are still going to work with the ASD tug design and after speaking to brokers we have found there have been some interesting developments since we last invested. The different engine speeds and different bridge designs and even fendering have moved on.