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Tugs: the powerhouses of the port

In the ‘Behind the Scenes’ series, we do precisely that and take a look behind the scenes of the companies in the port of Rotterdam. We get a unique look at the daily activities and processes of the various companies in Europe’s largest port. This time, we are going on board the tugs.

Port tugs are responsible for assisting large sea-going vessels to safely enter and exit ports and with berthing and unberthing. This nautical service has a long history. In Rotterdam, the roots go back to 1842 when the first tugboat was officially commissioned. Since then, Rotterdam tugs have become world-famous in the maritime sector. In a port city such as Rotterdam, where about 30,000 sea-going vessels call at the port annually, their services are invaluable. Watch the video and step on board:

Boluda Towage in the picture

Thanks to Boluda Towage, we have had the opportunity to become better acquainted with the world of tugs. We were allowed on board the tug ‘VB Rebel’, with the captain Richard Rietveld, chief engineer Tim Meulendijk and seaman Han de Geest. We talked to Commercial Area Manager Gerrit Peekstok and Dispatcher Timo van der Schee.

About Boluda Towage

Boluda Towage is a family-owned company and world leader in maritime services. They provide towing services in the most important ports around the globe. This division of Boluda Corporación Marítima is active on several continents, including Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their fleet consists of various vessels, manned by dedicated and highly trained crews. Besides towing services, Boluda Towage also offers offshore and deep-sea towing, emergency and salvage services.

We help by being one step ahead

When asked what makes Boluda Towage’s services so special, Gerrit answers: ‘We are here to assist vessels that cannot or may not sail independently through the port. We ensure they can safely navigate through the port, unmoor from the terminal quay or escort them from the quay. We do that in collaboration with the pilots, boatmen and harbour master. And we go further than that.’ Gerrit describes a situation they regularly encounter: ‘When the weather worsens, there’s the chance that clients need a stand-by tug to ensure they don’t break loose from the buoys or drift from the quayside. Instead of waiting until they call us, we call those vessels’ agents and ask the captain what they think they’ll need based on the weather forecasts. We can anticipate that and don’t need to take a tug out of service at a moment’s notice, which could mean disappointing other clients, and we ensure the vessel is safe.’

Red chimney

Timo adds to that: ‘We want to offer the whole picture. Boluda is a quality brand. When a captain or pilot sees a dark blue tug with a red chimney, we want him to think, “Aah, all is well!” That applies to both daily operations as well as special projects. And not only for Rotterdam, but for all ports where we work.’

A real family-owned company

You don’t earn that sense of ‘all is well’ overnight. There is a rich heritage behind it. Gerrit shares a bit of history and about the people, some of whom have worked there for years. ‘Boluda Towage Rotterdam is part of Boluda Corporación Marítima, a family-owned company that has been active since 1837. Captains work here who’ve been employed for more than 50 years and who once started working for us as seamen. There are many seamen that indicate they want to become captains. And that’s possible. We have our own training programmes. If you start at Boluda Towage when you’re young, you can continue sailing with us your entire career thanks to the training programmes. Besides training for seamen, engineers and captains, we also train tow masters. They are captains with years of experience in towing, for example, pontoons, towing barges and tunnel sections. We call those “Specials”.

A second marriage

On board the Rebel, we saw that the three-man crew – the captain, engineer and seaman – are perfectly in sync with each other. They have been working together as a team for years. Timo tells us about it: ‘We have different shifts. Most work in continuous shifts, meaning the crew are on board together for one or two weeks. They must really be able to rely on one another. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Some teams have been working together for 20 or 30 years. They have seen each other’s children growing up. They call it a second marriage.’ On board the Rebel, it was even called a first marriage… Timo continues: ‘Well, you do see that the younger people want to be home more often in the evenings, with the children. Instead of continuous shifts, we now have more day and/or night shifts than we did a few years ago. That works well for the men who want to be at home more. And for our planning, considering the growing ship movements and increasing demand. We have to be ready at all times, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sunday rest and public holidays are not in our vocabulary on the water. The work never stops and that demands flexibility and dedication.’


When we ask what the future of Boluda Towage looks like, Gerrit answers confidently: ‘Promising. We are a global player and on the brink of becoming the largest towing service in the world. We operate globally, but anchoring ourselves locally is and will remain of great importance. Our commercial team serve both the international and local port network and, in all ports where we offer our services, we work with local crews and teams that know the ports like the back of their hand. We get through some numbers in Rotterdam, numbers that other ports across the globe look at with amazement and admiration. And when you get home late in the evening and see a really nice message on your phone from a client who thanks us for that day’s efforts, well, it may sound a bit cheesy but that makes us rather proud.’
Source: Port of Rotterdam

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