New tugboat takes to the Seaway in 2020

A model of the Seaway Development Corporation’s new Ice-Class tug boat Seaway Guardian was on display at the Seaway’s 60-year anniversary celebration Tuesday at Eisenhower Lock in Massena. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — The Robinson Bay tugboat that has broken ice, hauled and placed buoys along the St. Lawrence Seaway for six decades will soon retire, and a newer, larger and more powerful vessel will take its place.

The St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., which manages the U.S. portion of the international waterway, expects its new tugboat, the Seaway Guardian, to be delivered soon to its Massena facilities in preparation for its inaugural shipping season next year.

The 181-foot long, 45-foot wide steel vessel boasts multiple enhancements from its 61-year-old counterpart, including almost three times the horsepower at 5,350 horsepower, a faster maximum speed at 13 knots, more than three times the towing strength at 65 tons and the ability to break three times as much ice.

The Robinson Bay tugboat, pictured in March in Wiley Dondero Canal. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

Representatives from the development corporation supplied informational material about the Seaway Guardian, which emphasized the vessel’s deck-mounted crane for hauling and deploying buoys, command center for emergency response operations and “enhanced ship firefighting capabilities,” during the 60th anniversary celebration for the Seaway Tuesday. Deputy Administrator Craig Middlebrook also highlighted the tugboat.

“As you heard, we’re replacing the (development corporation’s) beloved 60-year-old tug Robinson Bay with a new, first-class ice tug. The name of that new tug will be Seaway Guardian,” Mr. Middlebrook said, adding that name was selected from a list of suggestions submitted by workers from the development corporation.

Onlookers have witnessed the green and white Robinson Bay cruise along the St. Lawrence River from the waterfront since the shipping channel opened in 1959, watching it deploy and remove buoys at the beginning and end of each navigation season. The 103-foot-long, 24-foot-wide vessel first launched in 1958 in Massena.

Seaway officials have discussed replacing the Robinson Bay through its asset renewal program for years, particularly due to rising maintenance costs, according to a recent capital investment plan for fiscal years 2019 through 2023. The development corporation awarded a contract to Gulf Island Shipyards, Houma, La. to build the $24 million vessel, in 2017, and construction began in the 2018 fiscal year. Officials expect sea trials for the vessel to begin next month, following its launch Sept. 12, according to the information pamphlets handed out Tuesday.

“The new tugboat will further enhance the SLSDC’s ability to quickly and effectively respond to emergency operational incidents on the St. Lawrence Seaway. In addition, the new tug will achieve greater operational and cost-savings efficiencies,” the development corporation wrote in its 2018 annual report to Congress. “The new tugboat will produce lower emissions than the current Robinson Bay tugboat.”

The development corporation has another tugboat, Performance, used for buoy positioning, moving buoys back onto station and aiding the Robinson Bay in buoy tending and by hauling the gatelifter crane barge.

According to the corporation’s capital investment plan, however, the vessel has “experienced serious corrosion issues with the hull and some of the appurtenances,” prompting frequent, reoccurring removal for inspection and repairs. The corporation plans to have the vessel replaced by 2020 or 2021 for $6 million.