Down to the Sea in Tugboats

TALIM Rotary conference 27 febFor a moment, clear your mental picture of tugboat toys for toddlers in bathtubs.

We are talking serious, strong, adult-strength vessels, those that can withstand Force 10 gales and deploy to sea in minutes to save supertankers in distress.  Moroccans were just reminded of the dangers at sea, with the loss of life following a collision between two fishing boats off the southern port of Dakhla two days ago.

That's the world of Christophe Bommelaer, who has sailed the rough seas from his native Dunkirk on the English Channel, via the Breton coast and its legendary "Abeille" series rescue tugs, to the port of Tangier Med, where he heads Boluda's fleet of intra-port tugs on the Strait of Gibraltar.

Thanks to Yves Gomez of Rotary Détroit for conceiving and presenting this informative session with M. Bommelaer.

As we've seen from anthropologist Janell Rothenberg's logistics presentation last year, and from our 2011 April Seminar on the socio-economic impact of Tangier's ports (two-part report: Day One, and Day Two), the topic of Tangier as an important Atlantic-Mediterranean port city continues to captivate our audience.  With considerable investments to foster both commercial shipping and tourism, Morocco has ambitions for Tangier as a major hub, connected to the world.

TALIM Rotary Boluda

It always helps to show pictures, and the work of a tugboat captain, especially during dramatic rescues in mountainous waves, is very photogenic.  Christophe Bommelaer did not disappoint, and his spectacular footage, through YouTube, of the work that he and his colleagues do had the audience of Tangier students, Rotarians, and the interested public holding its breath.

The stats in this business are impressive: a $35 million tug (of the heavy duty Abeille class) to save a container ship worth $350 million; traffic in the Strait of Gibraltar: 300 ships per day (in the English Channel, it's twice that).  Bommelaer's pièce de résistance was a look at a real time website showing maritime movements,

The glimpse we had, on a Thursday evening, circa 9:00 PM, revealed a snapshot of Tangier Med with roughly three ships versus rival Algeciras in Spain, where numerous vessels were lining up.

TALIM Tan Med screen shot

The above real time screen shot from Sunday morning illustrates either (a) that Algeciras appears to be (literally) eating Tangier Med's breakfast, or (b) that Tangier Med's super efficiency means ships roll in and roll right out again, after transshipments.  I'll leave it to the Tangier Med (TMSA, renamed TMPA) marketing department to clarify this, but, oops, their website appears to have disappeared.

Listening to Christophe Bommelaer, I get the impression that, like Horatio Clare's recent book on the container industry – "I thought I went to sea to find out about ships and oceans, but though I saw something of those, I saw much more of men" – there's a book on tugboat people and their dangerous and romantic profession that has yet to be written… perhaps "Down To The Sea In Tugboats."

But wait, they made a film:


Can't get more romantic than that.

Gerald Loftus

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