Vice President, Seabulk Towing, Inc. - Florida Ports
How did you come to be involved in the industry?
While still in college in 1977 I was hired by Mobile Towing in Mobile, Alabama (owned by Moran Towing) as a bookkeeper and dispatcher. In 1980, after Moran decided to discontinue operations in Mobile, I was hired by Tugboat, Incorporated; a local family owned harbor tug company. I continued as the bookkeeper and daytime dispatcher. In late 1981 the Tugboat, Inc. family sold the company to St. Philip Towing from Tampa, Florida. I stayed on with the company and soon worked into the position of Operations Manager in the Mobile location.
Over time, St. Philip became owned by George Steinbrenner and the company was changed to Bay Transportation Company. In 1988, Bay Transportation sold the Mobile operation to Hvide Marine of Ft. Lauderdale, which had the Seabulk division and logo. In Mobile we operated as Hvide Marine Towing for awhile and then eventually became Seabulk Towing, Inc. In 1997 Seabulk, already operating in Port Everglades, Port Canaveral and Mobile, started an acquisition program and acquired Bay Transportation in Tampa and then later Sabine Towing in Port Arthur, Texas and Lake Charles, Louisiana. I was somewhat involved in those acquisition transitions into Seabulk. Seabulk then set up the Tampa, Florida operation as the towing headquarters. In late 1999, I was promoted to Vice President of Administration for Seabulk and moved to Tampa from Mobile. In 2003 the company did some restructuring and my title and responsibilities changed to Vice President and General Manager of the Tampa operation. In 2005, Seabulk and Seacor Holdings merged, with Seacor Holdings becoming the parent company. In late 2009, another restructuring of the Florida towing group was carried out and I became Vice President of Florida Ports, with responsibilities for Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Cape Canaveral.
Over the years it has become somewhat of a personal joke: I have been sold with the companies as one of the fixtures or equipment. But I have been very fortunate to be able to use all these changes and acquisitions to grow within the industry.
What are the obstacles and opportunities in the towing industry right now?
Obstacles and opportunities in the towing industry can change as much as the seasons change. Some of the toughest obstacles in recent times have been new Coast Guard regulations handed down due to various incidents happening across the U.S. and around the world. The way we crew our vessels and operate them has changed a good deal over the years that I have been in the industry. Safety is not just a high priority; it is job-one in our business.
Opportunities in the harbor towing business are closely tied to being involved in the growth of our ports. LNG has become a very large factor in some of our ports and soon will have an effect on another. In the Florida ports we are closely monitoring the Panama Canal expansion and possible future trade opportunities with Cuba. Even the earthquake in Haiti and the Gulf oil spill, as disastrous as they are, have opened some new business opportunities for us. As I said, it can change as often as the seasons.
How is Seabulk Towing investing in the future?
Seabulk has a continuous program to upgrade and replace our equipment with the most modern and efficient vessels. Another new build program is currently underway and we are researching the possibilities of “green” tugs. Our crews are encouraged and somewhat required to continuously attend schools, upgrade licenses and endorsements and adhere to our safety programs. We’ve had and continue to have internships for various marine academies across the U. S. One of the best ways to invest in the future is to be involved in our local maritime communities.
What have been the most important changes in the towing industry in the last several years?
Without a doubt, the most important change has been the tugs themselves. When I first started in the industry we had all conventional tugs, single screw and twin screw; the twin screw being the most modern and powerful equipment. Then I remember our company (St. Philip) taking a single screw tug and installing an “Aqua master bow thruster” unit onboard, creating one of the first tractor tugs of its kind. This allowed the tug to move sideways, therefore providing more maneuverability. What an exciting time that was! Then, as tractor tugs became more popular, our company (Seabulk) created a new patented tug called the Ship Docking Module or SDM; a saucer shaped vessel with drive units off set of each other on the bow and stern, allowing thrust from any angle. Today our fleet is made up of more tractor tugs than conventional tugs.
As for my career, the most important change has been to allow myself to be open to new ideas and move with the companies … no matter where it takes me. Changes in your career can many times be scary, but I have learned to go to that horizon and see where it takes me. I have been very fortunate and it has made me wiser.
What technological advances really need to be made?
Over the years, many technological advances have already been made. The emphasis before was on horsepower and maneuverability; now in addition, emphasis will be on fuel economy, vessel longevity and electronics. Most engine rooms and wheelhouses have become computerized. The day of crew members just being trained hands-on is long gone; crews have to be computer literate and have both capabilities.
Communication technology has certainly come a long way. In my early years we only communicated with the tugs via VHF radio. Now we also have cell phone and email capabilities. I often wonder how far we are from robotic tugs. Far fetched? Maybe. But in my career span, there was a time without cell phones.
How is Seabulk involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill response?The Gulf oil spill certainly is a tragedy. Some of Seabulk’s tugs are being employed to help with the clean-up effort in the Alabama and the Florida panhandle ports of Pensacola and Panama City. We are using our tugs’ fire monitors to decontaminate ships and vessels coming into these ports under the direction of the Coast Guard. Some of the vessels that have passed through the spill area have oil adhering to the hulls and the vessel is decontaminated offshore before they are allowed into the various ports. This has required Seabulk to supply tugs from our Mobile, Alabama and Tampa, Florida operations. We have had to make equipment adjustments in these ports to be able to continue to service our harbor needs and make adjustments with crews to be able to man these additional out-of-harbor tugs stationed with this clean-up effort.