VANCOUVER – B.C.’s tugboat industry is hoping an incoming wave of economic activity this year will offset a lengthy slump that left many tugs tied up dockside.
The economic downturn slowed port activity in 2009 and 2010, with fewer freighters as well as cruise and other ships needing the assistance of tugs to escort them in and out of B.C. harbours.
But tug companies tied to the forest industry suffered the greatest impact, as the business of towing logs or chip barges along the coast dried up significantly in many areas.
“Our industry probably had a decline of 30 per cent in business,” said Capt. Phillip Nelson, president of the Council of Marine Carriers, a tug and barge industry association that represents 43 tugboat companies and several affiliate members. “And some companies lost a lot more business than that.
“On some days, every vessel some companies had were tied up,” added Nelson, who noted that 350 tugs ply B.C. coastal waters with about 2,000 employees.
“The forest industry is the biggest customer of the towboat industry on the West Coast, so when that’s in decline our members have to look for new [business].”
As well, he noted: “As consumers buy less goods, there’s [fewer] ships moving them around from the world market into the port of Vancouver.”
Despite the gloom, Nelson said business is on the rebound and is now only about 15 per cent below pre-recession levels.
“I think the industry is fairly optimistic about 2011,” he said. “The economy is growing and some companies have diversified into other types of cargo.”
As well, companies are starting to rehire, more boats are back out on the water and deals are being made.