May 03, 2016

The years come and go, but they are each very different for the Les Abeilles assistance and salvage tugs. After two rather calm winters, the company's vessels have just taken part in no less than twenty operations. A very busy winter indeed, in which the Les Abeilles crews fully played their role as the St. Bernards of the seas...

"From the 25 meter yacht to a 300 meter cargo carrier, and with an assortment of vessels in between: a chemical tanker, a little coastal cargo vessel, a bulk carrier, etc. The many interventions performed by our vessels this past winter perfectly illustrate the realities of our mission." explains Pascal Potrel, Managing Director for Les Abeilles. "Between the real-world interventions and what we call "hot escorts" in our jargon, our teams have intervened nearly twenty times to provide assistance to stricken vessels. And on every French seaboard, in the Mediterranean, in the Channel, and on the Ushant shipping lane." Three RIAS1 vessels – the Abeille Bourbon, the Abeille Liberté, and the Abeille Languedoc – and one BSAD2 – the Jason – took part in these operations.

How do you explain such a string of operations? The change in laws on propulsion fuels a few years ago, which forces vessels to switch from a heavy fuel to a light fuel when they enter the Channel has definitely resulted in a number of breakdowns. Vessels regularly find themselves stopped out at sea to perform repairs to the fuel circuit. This context has not resulted in an increase in towing operations, but rather more standby alerts.

However, better risk management by shipping companies should probably also be taken into consideration. "Most shipowners are currently in the same dynamic in terms of safety policy, which pushes them to be much more responsive." Pascal Potrel explains. "Procedures are very strict and applied. So, crisis cells get together as soon as possible to best manage situations, so that the vessels can get back to being operational as quickly as possible."

"There are no little or big operations. Each tow requires the utmost professionalism."
pascal potrelmanaging director for les abeilles


Each operation is unique

The number of interventions doesn't make them routine either, far from it. Thus the towing of the Koningsborg to the port of Brest by the Abeille Bourbon in late December was no walk in the park. The 131 meter bulk vessel was under way with her cargo of lumber bound for Tunisia when a mechanical problem occurred, resulting in the loss of a part of the vessel's cargo, in very heavy seas. With the Les Abeilles tug's crew being forced to intervene on the bulk vessel's deck under difficult conditions. A few hours later, despite a broken towline while under way, the Abeille Bourbon and the Koningsborg made their entrance into the port of Brest.

Meanwhile, the Fairwood, a 25 meter yacht evacuated by her occupants following a machine room fire, was towed by the Jason in the Gulf of Lion (Mediterranean), an intervention that helped prevent a fuel spill. "There are no little or big operations. Each tow requires the utmost professionalism, regardless of the size of the vessel, so that the safety of personnel and the integrity of the vessel and the environment are protected. The sustained operational activity this winter - despite a normal weather season - shows us, furthermore, that our vigilance in terms of coastal protection should be high at all times, and we should never let our guard down..."

1RIAS: Response, Assistance, and Salvage Tugs

2BSAD: Salvage, Assistance, and Pollution-Remediation Tug



abeille languedoc / a delicate towing operation

On March 2nd, the chemical tanker Lizrix was towed to Dover by the Abeille Languedoc, under difficult conditions Captain Eric Piani explains.

"What makes this tow unique is both the weather conditions, with winds up to a Beaufort Force of 9, but also the vessel's position. The chemical tanker was moored in the Pas de Calais shipping lane, when the maritime prefecture notified her that she had to be towed, in order to prevent any risk of collision with the many vessels that use this shipping lane, and do so as soon as possible.

Another advantage: the operation was able to be performed in the daytime, which is always safer. During the maneuver, we had to position the Abeille Languedoc in the same direction as the Lizrix, but offset slightly so that the mooring chain would not get caught up in our propellers. So we were facing a headwind, which made the tow more difficult, because tugs generally work with the wind at their stern, which gives them better balance. In this particular case, we had to constantly compensate with the thrusters. Despite these generally unfavorable circumstances, it went very well, quite luckily, and we were able to bring the vessel in to Dover where she was able to be taken on to get repairs there."

Les Abeilles A winter full of interventions
  • Les Abeilles
  • Les Abeilles
  • Les Abeilles
  • Les Abeilles
Bourbon behind the scenes