Crescent Towing is Pulling (and Pushing) Much More Than Their Weight

crescent towing

There is something timeless and majestic about watching huge commercial ships make their way up and down the Mississippi River. But as they glide gracefully by, few observers are aware of the powerful factors and considerable work that underpin each vessel’s call in the Port of New Orleans.

Consider that the largest ships, the Panamex vessels, can hold up to about 75 tons of cargo, while the ships themselves typically weigh upwards of 8000 tons, and stretch about 950 feet from bow to stern.  They navigate the roiling currents of the River, and despite their bulk, can be pushed by even moderate winds.

Now imagine that you are responsible for getting these behemoths into and out of their docks safely – and your tool, on which you are riding, is a tugboat that typically weighs somewhere around 200 tons.

“Our main work is docking and undocking ships, which is what we do best,” explained Ben Morvant, Senior Operations Manager for Crescent Towing. “Each vessel typically requires two tugboats to dock or undock.”

The company was founded back in 1942 as Crescent Towing and Salvage, because in its earlier years, salvaging other types of boats and converting them into tugboats was part of the business.

“Some of our vessels still date from the ’50s and ’60s, retrofitted and updated,” said Morvant. “But the industry is generally moving towards newer technology.”

As the size of the cargo ships has grown substantially, the work vessels have been forced to keep pace. Crescent dropped the salvage part of the business decades ago, while expanding its operating area to Mobile, Alabama in 1979 and Savannah, Georgia in 1985.

As described by Morvant, “the current generation of workboats are called tractor tugs or Z-Drives. There are drives on the bottom of the hull that can point in any direction, 360 degrees. This makes them more maneuverable, quicker and more powerful. And of course they have all the latest radar and communications technologies.”

While the seagoing life is often romanticized as being for independent loner types, life in the Port of New Orleans is the exact opposite.

“We are all partners with each other,” said Morvant. “It’s a symbiotic relationship. Our customers are the ship owners, the lessors and agents. We rely on the port to attract business to New Orleans, and they rely on us to efficiently and safely dock the vessels. We do our best to make every ship call run smoothly.”

Crescent itself has a subsidiary that a vital partner in the company’s work. Cooper Mooring helps tie and untie the vessels that come into the Port, both on wharves and on buoys out in the River. This process is more complex that it might sound, given the huge size of these boats; suffice it to say that these are not the same ropes you might use to stake up a bush on your yard, nor are the knots the ones you learned in Boy or Girl Scouts.

Another example of the collaboration among the various partners on the River is dealing with emergencies. “It’s rare, but things do happen,” noted Morvant, citing fires, vessels that lose power or steering, or the worst nightmare, someone in the water. “If there is an emergency, all mariners respond as quickly as they can. Everybody helps everybody else on the River.”

Crescent’s fleet is spread up and down the River, positioning their vessels to get to an emergency scene quickly. All are equipped with firefighting equipment, and the crews are trained for all types of emergency situations.

While its work may be on the water, Crescent Towing is also very engaged on land. The company is located in Algiers, and Morvant serves on the board of directors of the Algiers Economic Development Foundation. The company provides volunteers for AEDC programs like the Algiers Clean Sweep.

Another focus, according to Morvant, “is trying to educate students about what we do here on the river. These are great jobs, there are so many opportunities.”

To this end, Crescent is part of the Algiers Career and Educational Development Program. The company hosts a large group of high school students each year, providing tours of their facilities, opportunities to speak with various staff members, and a hands-on tour of the tugboats themselves.

“People don’t hear about what happens on the other side of the levee,” Morvant observed, and indeed, few really understand how vital the Port is to the city’s economy. Indeed, the city probably wouldn’t even be here without the Port.

“New Orleans is in such a great spot,” Morvant said. “If you looked over the levee, you would see paddle wheelers, cruise ships, tugs, barges, container ships. We love having an opportunity to be part of that picture.”


Categories: Neighborhood Biz