COLUMN | The poor cousin? IMO numbers for workboats [Aft Lines]

ALP Keeper – tug or OSV?

So as I write this it is Independence Day, so we have just clicked over into the second half of the year. It’s perhaps somewhat perverse of me, then, to look back at last year at this time. The thing is it takes some time for the past to settle down and be consolidated, especially when it comes to numbers.

Here are some numbers that I think will interest you: last year 299 bulk carriers were issued IMO numbers, surpassed by tankers with 577, but ahead of container and general cargo ships with 176 and 114 new numbers issued for 2018 builds respectively.

Now, I know what you are thinking. And to address that, let me just say that while I may not be the sharpest hammer in the toolbox, I do realise that none of those ships types fit with the Work Boat World demographic.

So why mention these major merchant shipping classes at all? Well the answer is easy: to provide a semblance of context to some other information.

Now as all my readers are cognoscenti, I don’t need to remind you that IMO numbers are generally only issued for vessels that may trade internationally. So you can be sure that the fraction of the entire Work Boat World that they cover is small in comparison to for those deep sea merchant men.

A natural consequence of that is that the IMO spends a lot of resources focused on the “big end of town” and less on the vessel and operators that fit in our sphere of interest. At least that is my impression, though that is obviously subjective. That’s kind of fair enough in the sense that the IMO is not tasked, nor authorised, to get involved in non-international maritime matters. There is an I in IMO for a reason.

Here, however, is the apparent twist. We work boaters are not quite the “poor cousin” that I imagined we are. According to the data, there were no fewer than 340 vessels in the “Tug (Towing/Pushing)” category built last year that were assigned IMO numbers. To that for newbuilds last year you can add just under 150 passenger or passenger-vehicle vessels less than 10,000GT; and just over 120 offshore industry vessels. Obviously I couldn’t be bothered going through every single category but there were at least another 185 work boat type vessels in the list.

So if my maths is correct, that’s about 800 boats last year, and that doesn’t include fishing boats and research vessels, which I have written about in the past. So by stakeholder vessels it it’s very clear that work boats should not be on the sidelines. I guess we already thought that though, didn’t we?

Tugging at numbers

Interestingly if one dives into the Tug (Towing/Pushing) category data there are no fewer than 46 flag states represented, including such “exotic” characters as Iceland, Cuba and Mongolia (yes, Mongolia!).

The identity of the big flag state in terms of number of 2018-built tugs came as a surprise to me: Indonesia leading the way and by a massive margin. The SE Asian archipelagic nation flagged virtually one-third of the new tugs to be assigned IMO numbers last year, essentially four times as many as the next largest flag state, being the good old US of A.

RankFlagNo. of new tugs with IMO Nos.
2United States20
5Republic of Korea9
=6Saint Vincent and the Grenadines8
=10Marshall Islands5

In terms of gross tonnage the main flag states are all pretty much the same, albeit with some shuffling of the leaderboard. The Netherlands is the biggest mover – an equal tenth ranking in terms of tug numbers giving way to a bronze medal for combined tonnage. The gap between first placed Indonesia and second placed USA also contracts markedly – obviously quite a lot of smaller craft in the former’s new acquistions.

RankFlagGT of new tugs with IMO Nos.
2United States14,190
6Saint Vincent and the Grenadines3,606
9Republic of Korea2,310

A look at the individual ship data shows just how these variations can arise, with the Dutch fleet being a case in point: ALP’s ALP Keeper, all 302 tonnes bollard pull and 5,901GT of it, is included in the list. Arguably the ship would be better categorised as an offshore vessel, but who am I to argue with the IMO’s classification. The fact of the matter is the ALP Keeper is miles bigger than anything else from the 2018 class, with the next largest tug measuring in 1,524GT. In all 20 tugs sit above 500GT, of which 13 are US-flagged.

Nine of these US tugs are owned by Alaska Ventures, making it the second largest individual buyer behind Indonesia Port Corporation. Of course it is somewhat hard to be sure of the beneficial owner, with all manner of subsidiary and shelf companies represented. For example Alaska Ventures is somehow tied up with Edison Chouest Offshore.

So what have we learned? Possibly nothing, possibly something. What have I learned – the numbers can sometimes surprise you, take away the misconceptions, quantify or destroy your “known facts”. Perhaps most of all: the devil is undoubtedly in the detail.

Aft Lines

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