Cenac Marine Services and the Tugboat: Essential Work During COVID-19

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April 28, 2020
Benny Cenac, CEO of Cenac Marine Services, is proud of the influence his company has on the maritime industry.
Cenac Marine Services specializes in construction, repair, repowering and maintenance of the newest and most innovative push boat and tank barges.

As COVID-19 continues to sweep the nation, Americans across industries are hard at work doing all they can to slow the spread and protect the sick. The USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship, recently docked in New York City to care for people with non-COVID related illnesses and injuries, so that onshore hospitals could focus on the outbreak. The Comfort made its way all the way from Norfolk, Virginia, and key to its success in getting to New York City was the tugboat

A tugboat is a type of vessel that maneuvers other vessels by pushing or pulling them, either by means of direct contact or a tow line. They typically move vessels that are unable to move on their own, as is often the case with large vessels in crowded harbors or narrow canals. The huge USNS Comfort, equipped with 1,000 patient beds, 12 fully equipped operating rooms, eight intensive care unit beds and four radiology suites, had multiple tugboats assist as it left Norfolk and docked in New York City. 

Tugboats are powerful for their size and strongly built. The four tugboats that assisted in docking the Comfort in New York City provided more than 21,000 horsepower and successfully guided the massive hospital ship smoothly to her berth.

No one knows the towing and shipbuilding industry like Cenac Marine Services, a multi-generation family-owned business headquartered in Houma, Louisiana. Originally founded in 1927 as Cenac Towing Company by Jock Cenac, the company concentrates on the construction, repair, repowering and maintenance of the newest and most innovative push boat and tank barges operating within the U.S. Inland Waterway and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. 

Today, Jock Cenac’s grandson Arlen “Benny” Cenac Jr. has taken over the family business and maintains its commitment to employee satisfaction and company morale. Cenac Marine Services, through Benny Cenac’s leadership and vision, achieved great success offering inland and offshore boats and tank barges and served oil companies and refineries throughout the U.S. by transporting crude oil, lubricants, residual fuels and more. The liquidation of their industry-leading fleet coupled with the acquisition of Main Iron Works which has given Cenac Marine Services shipbuilding, repair and repoweringcapabilities, strengthening its position as a leader and innovator in the maritime industry.

It came as no surprise to Benny Cenac that tugboats played such a crucial role in getting the USNS Comfort out of the port in Norfolk and docked in New York City. Such undertakings often require the aid of one or more powerful tugboats, but Benny Cenac was humbled by the importance of this operation in particular. 

During the coronavirus, work in the maritime industry is considered essential, and its importance was exemplified by the docking of USNS Comfort in New York City.
Benny Cenac runs Cenac Marine Services on the same principles his grandfather founded the company on: employee satisfaction and commitment to company morale.

“I think it just shows how important the work that we do really is,” Benny Cenac said. “With something like the coronavirus, most people wouldn’t realize that tugboats actually have the ability to change and save lives. It’s a source of great pride for all of us who work in this industry.”

The role of the tugboats in getting the Comfort to New York also demonstrates just how far reaching the work in fighting a pandemic is. Nothing, of course, can compare to the work that the health care professionals do on the front lines, but there are so many other workers in addition who also play a role: grocery store workers, delivery drivers and even maritime workers. 

“During this difficult time, the work we do in the maritime industry is considered essential,” Benny Cenac said. “The USNS Comfort wouldn’t have made it to New York without the dedicated crew and captain who were risking their health and safety to get the vessel docked and ready to receive patients.” 

Benny Cenac’s Commitment to Safety

Benny Cenac was also among the 400 CEOs who last month signed an open letter pledging to take bold action to slow the spread of coronavirus. The signees promised to do more to support first responders and health care workers, ask employees not to host or attend social events and commit time to supporting state and local communities. 

“Those of us who own and run businesses, we have a great deal of responsibility to care for our employees and their families,” Benny Cenac said. “While much of the work we do at Cenac Marine is essential, I’ve implemented a lot of new policies and regulations to ensure proper social distancing measures for our employees.” 

Louisiana has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, and as a fourth-generation Louisianan, Benny Cenac feels a tremendous responsibility to care for and protect his home and community. He feels humbled that work in the maritime industry has the potential to impact so many people across the country during such a difficult time. 

Benny Cenac asks that everyone please stay home during this time, so his workers and others in the maritime industry and beyond can continue doing the crucial work that they do with the lowest risk as possible.

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