A few years ago, the older tugs in OHA’s fleet were approaching 30 years of age and the cost of keeping them certified was growing year on year. Like any vehicle, vessels reach a point where the maintenance needed to keep them in the water becomes more expensive than their value. On top of this, the ships we handle in Scapa Flow have been getting bigger in recent years, and so, it was time to upgrade to allow us to keep offering the high-class service our customers have come to expect. This is how Orkney Harbour Authority’s older tugboats needed replacing, and what launched our journey to welcoming Odin and Thor.
From concept and design to the exciting bit: the build
There are a few stages involved when buying a new boat. Our first task was to identify what the new tugs would need to do and check these requirements against current boat design limitations. Tugs come with almost endless parameters defining their specification, including their strength (bollard pull), how they drive and their capabilities. To land at a specification that we were happy with, we used a ship design consultancy to guide us through the design process.
Once we had a design, the next step was to identify a shipyard that could build our dream tugs. After a thorough procurement process, we gave the contract to Sanmar Shipyards in Turkey. They have the right set of capabilities and are world-renowned for building tugs, so we knew we were in safe hands.
The pandemic threw an unexpected complication at this stage, but we were amazed at what could be achieved via video calls and the sharing of images. The only real negative was that our engineers couldn’t visit the shipyard in person towards the end of the build, so the final tinkering took a little longer than it usually would. Odin and Thor began their lives in April 2019, when their keels were laid, and were launched for initial testing in February 2020. After a further six months of testing and checks, they were ready to set sail for Orkney.
Christening Odin and Thor
The contract with Sanmar Shipyards also covered Odin and Thor’s safe passage to Stromness. They provided a skilled crew who sailed the tugs direct to Orkney, arriving safely into harbour after 17 days at sea. Their crew stayed with us for a week to train up our existing crews on familiarisation with the new vessels.
Odin and Thor’s arrival in Stromness was a proud moment. A short while later, on a very wet day at Scapa Pier, they were officially named Odin of Scapa and Thor of Scapa by the traditional method of smashing (or rather, pouring) a bottle of champagne over the hulls. It’s fitting that their names were chosen by a local community vote, with the ceremony completed by our special guests who are now part of the history of our tugs which will be part of Orkney life for years to come, supporting the local economy in numerous ways.
Getting straight to work
Odin and Thor have been busy since day one. The vast majority of their work is in Scapa Flow at the Flotta Oil Terminal, as well as ship-to-ship transfers of crude oil and LNG. While working in the oil port makes up the bulk of their work, they also assist cruise ships when requested, vessel breakdowns and salvage, and they are fully compliant with working in an oil port with onboard firefighting equipment.
Tugs like Odin and Thor are a major asset, so other ports sometimes request to use them for towage jobs. Thanks to their size and power, their hi-tech equipment, and the fact that they’ve been designed to work in some of the harshest marine conditions, they’re well-known and admired by the seafaring community. Our crews love being onboard, and they look after them with pride.
The future for Orkney’s tug fleet
A third tug sibling will be joining the existing pair in the near future. Already christened Vale (from Norse mythology), she will be similar to Odin and Thor with only a few minor design tweaks to the onboard equipment.
Like Odin and Thor, Vale will be constructed to be as efficient and sustainable as possible, but these vessels do still rely on marine gas oil for fuel as cleaner alternatives do not currently exist for vessels of this capability. However, like many organisations in Orkney, Orkney Harbour Authority has made a strong commitment to reducing our carbon emissions and supporting Scotland’s net-zero targets. The good news is that the next new tug we need after Vale could be a smaller harbour-based pusher tug, and we would look to design one that is powered by green fuels.
While it’s sad to see the older tugs go, we’re happy to report that their working lives aren’t over yet. Because they’ve been kept in such good condition by our engineers, they will be sold to other harbours and sail off to new homes to live out their twilight years. As well as saving them from the scrapheap, this approach gives us the bonus of income from their sale to offset the cost of the new tugs.
Make sure you’re following our social media channels for more updates on what Odin and Thor are up to - and to meet our new tug Vale when she arrives!