Posted on

Tugging ships to safety

Lisa King

Tugging ships to safety

Social Share

On a daily basis he does a job the importance of which many people outside of his work environment might not appreciate.
However, without Tug Master Frank Wiltshire on the job, many cruise and cargo ship captains would find it hard to berth in the Bridgetown Port.
Wiltshire is one of four tug masters employed by the Barbados Port Authority. He and his crew on board the tugs assist vessels in berthing at and departing from the port.  
Wiltshire said they work with the pilot, who gives directions to the tug master. The pilot is the person who goes out to meet the ship. When a cruise ship is approaching the island the pilot goes a quarter of a mile or just outside the break wall and  boards the ship to assist the captain in approaching the Port.
Wiltshire said the pilot was employed for the local knowledge of the wind speeds and direction, the currents and the shallow or deep sections of the waterway leading into the Port.
That was why it was so important for them to work closely together, he explained.
Wiltshire said that the major assistance now went to the cargo vessels which did not have as much technology as the cruise liners.  
He added that the bigger cruise liners had all types of fancy gadgets so they manoeuvred by themselves.  
“The ships get bigger and may have more technology but in doing the job, it is a lot of responsibility to make sure the ship is safe and sustains no damage,” he said.  
“The thing is to not get complacent and to know that when you approach a vessel that all the equipment may be working well, but I still have to be ready in the event that something happens because, despite whatever technology you put on the vessel, there is a possibility that something will fail.”
Wiltshire said that the tug was there just in case something went wrong, but in the past all vessels had to be assisted in entering and leaving the Port.
Depending on the strength of the wind or the wind direction, the ship might need a “little push or pull” to go alongside the dock, he said.
People marvel when they see the two small tugs manoeuvring massive cruise ships but Wiltshire said that the tugs have immense power – 5 200 and 4 600 horsepower.  
Wiltshire said that the port had moved from two smaller tugs with moderate horsepower – which struggled to push or pull ships – to adequately powered vessels.
Additionally, the tugs assist oil tankers that dock at Oistins, as well as ships that berth at the Arawak Cement Plant or off Spring Garden.  
They are also equipped to tow a broken down vessel and deal with a fire on another ship at sea.
For the past 20 years Wiltshire has been working at the Bridgetown Port, but he started out in the merchant marine, sailing from 1979 to 1991 with companies such as Shell, Blue Star and Booth Steamship.  
In 1998 he went to work as a wharf officer in charge of the Careenage and the Shallow Draught before he was promoted to tug mate a few months later. In March this year he was promoted to tug master.
Wiltshire, who received some of his training at the Caribbean Maritime Institute, said he was keen on helping people in their hour of need.
“I was a seaman before and if I was on a vessel and there was a situation where I needed someone to rescue me I would want to know that there is someone coming to assist me,” he said.  
“I know that I am in a position where I can assist someone and render some help, whether it be to take a pump to pump off water. Knowing that I am here to assist someone at sea if need be is what keeps me going, along with my love for the sea.”