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Ports of Auckland buys world first electric tug

A response to the urgent need to tackle climate change.

Ports of Auckland has signed a contract with Dutch company Damen Shipyards to buy the world's first full-size, fully electric port tug.

The new tug, a Damen RSD-E Tug 2513 to be delivered in 2021, will have a 70 tonne bollard pull, the same as the port's strongest diesel tug Hauraki, also built by Damen.

"In 2016 we set ourselves the goal of being zero emission by 2040," says Tony Gibson, CEO of Ports of Auckland. "We set this goal because we recognise that urgent action is needed on climate change, and we wanted to be part of the solution. However, setting that goal created a tough challenge. We have a lot of heavy equipment, like tugs, and in 2016 there were no zero emission options."

"When we first looked into buying an electric tug in 2016, there was nothing on the market," says Allan D'Souza, Ports of Auckland's General Manager Marine, Engineering and General Wharf Operations. "We talked to several manufacturers about building a battery powered tug. They told us we were dreaming. Hybrid tugs were possible, they said, but not battery. No way."

"Luckily for us," said Mr Gibson "Allan doesn't give up. He and Marine Technical Superintendent Rob Willighagen kept talking to manufacturers, kept suggesting ways to solve problems, and they found a partner willing to take on the challenge: Damen Shipyards."

"I would like to acknowledge Damen for their work on this project since 2016. They have invested a significant amount of time and money to develop this innovative vessel. In the fight against climate change, partnerships are important, and Damen have been a great partner," he added.

James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change said, "People who say we have to wait for the technology to emerge before we can set ourselves bold goals have got it round the wrong way. Many of the challenges we face with climate change will require solutions that aren't yet on the market. Ports of Auckland and an increasing number of other businesses across New Zealand are showing that won't stop them finding ways to meet our goals on greenhouse gas emission reductions."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said, "Commissioning the world's first fully electric large tug represents a strong commitment by Auckland and its port to reducing carbon emissions and achieving our carbon zero target.

"It's great for the environment, reducing pollution in the city centre and cutting back carbon emissions.

"The life of the tug is around 25 years. By going electric now, we save 25 years of diesel pollution and a net reduction in costs of around $2.5 million because it is so much cheaper to operate."

Mr Gibson said "It was important to us that a new electric tug should be able to carry out normal port operations, just like our existing diesel tugs. Our new e-tug will be able to do three to four shipping moves on a full charge, or around three to four hours work (one shipping move takes an hour on average). A fast charge will take about two hours. This is just what we need."

"One of the other hurdles we had to get over was cost. The purchase price of this tug is significant, at roughly double that of a diesel tug, and that is an important consideration for a business that needs to make a profit. However, we are prepared to wear that up-front cost because our commitment to reduce emissions has to be more than just words.

Fortunately, the cost of operating an electric tug is less than a third of the cost of running a diesel tug. So while we pay more up front, over the life of the tug we'll save around $12 million in operating costs, making our electric tug cheaper in the long term," he added.



A short video with commentary about the electric tug purchase can be viewed here:​ 

​VNR with interviews about the electric tug can be downloaded here:

Ports of Auckland - Sustainability announcement - VNR_1.mp4

Interviewees are (in order)

  • Hon James Shaw, Climate Change Minister
  • Phil Goff, Mayor of Auckland
  • Rob Willeghagen,  Marine Technical Superintendent, Ports of Auckland
  • Jamie McGregor, Marine Shift Supervisor, Ports of Auckland
  • Tony Gibson, CEO, Ports of Auckland
  • Allan D'Souza, General Manager Marine, Engineering and General Wharf Operations, Ports of Auckland
  • Includes b-roll of diesel tug operations



When did Ports of Auckland first start looking for a battery-powered tug?

We started looking in 2016, as soon as we made the commitment to be Zero Emission by 2040.

What other battery tugs are there in the world?

This will be the world's first full-sized electric tug, and it is designed for normal port operations. There is an electric tug under construction for use in Turkey, but it is small (18.7m), is designed with a conventional twin screw propulsion line (as opposed to the Azimuth propulsion in the RSD-E 2513) and will work in a very narrow and tight environment.

Will this tug be used for normal operations, or is it restricted in what it can do?

This tug will perform the same tasks at the same level as our strongest diesel tug. When ordering electric, we wanted something that we could use for normal operations, and that is what we've got.

This is new technology, what happens if something goes wrong with power systems?

Damen builds standard vessels in series, which means that the vessel has also been designed using techniques and equipment that have proven themselves over and over again.

With this philosophy Damen is able to guarantee fast lead times, reliable performance and low total cost of ownership. The new tug is an electric version of the existing Damen RSD Tug 2513, which is the company's greenest diesel tug and is the next generation of harbour tugs. This made an ideal candidate for conversion to the world's first full size, fully electric port tug.

There are also high levels of redundancy built into its power systems. The batteries arranged in strings; if one battery in a string fails, the others would simply carry on the work.

To ensure absolute safety – of utmost importance in shipping – the tug also has two 1000kW back-up generator sets. They provide enough power for the tug to operate at 40 tonnes bollard pull in the event of an electrical system failure or if the vessel needs to operate for a longer duration.

The generators are fully IMO Tier III compliant engines and therefore the greenest option currently available.

To be clear though, this is not a hybrid system. In normal circumstances, we will not use the generators.

How often would the back-up generators be used?

Very rarely. In working with Damen to design this tug, we wanted a vessel that could operate normally in a port environment. Our new e-tug can do up to four shipping moves on a charge of batteries and can go in for quick charge if required.

We will only use the generators in cases of emergency or some fault that is not part of business as usual. We expect to use them at most, once or twice a year.

What will it cost?

Our e-tug will cost about twice as much as a diesel tug, and this price includes the cost of charging infrastructure. However, because the operating cost is so low, over the 25-year life of the e-tug we expect to save money overall.

This purchase is a triple bottom line winner, good for profit, the environment and the community. Lower cost, fewer carbon emissions, less noise and less air pollution.



Our current 70 tonne bollard pull tug Hauraki uses around 120 litres of diesel per hour. In 2019 it consumed 190,926 litres of diesel equating to 514.33 tCO2e (figures for 2019, using MFE May 2019 emission factors).

The energy rating of the e-tug's batteries is 2800 kWh – that's the same as 70 Nissan Leafs (based on a 40kW Leaf battery). Based on the Hauraki 2019 diesel consumption / number of ship pulls it is expected the electric tug will use approximately 501,685 kWh to operate in the same way, this equates to 49.02 tCO2e which would mean an annual saving of 465.31 tCO2e.

In future, we hope to be able to use 100% renewable energy, which would reduce emissions to zero. As our tugs account for approximately 10% of our total scope 1 emissions and approximately 8% of our total gross scope 1,2 & 3 emissions, replacing all our tugs represents a significant reduction in our carbon footprint.

Tug dimensions: 6-metre draft, 24.73 Length

Propeller diameter: It will have two azimuth thrusters with 3-metre diameter propellers



Ports of Auckland is a founding member of the Climate Leaders Coalition, a group formed to promote business leadership and collective action on the issue of climate change.

As signatories to the Climate Leaders Coalition, we are acting on climate change now, to create a future that is low-emissions, positive for our businesses and the economy, and inclusive for all New Zealanders.

We are committed to the Paris Agreement target to keep warming below 2 degrees and to further pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.​