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70 W orking on a tugboat must rank among the most dangerous occupations in the world. As well as performing heavy lifting and line handling – potentially on a deck made slippery from oil and ice – tugboat captains have to manoeuvre in tight and hazardous spaces. “I sailed on tugboats from 1988 until 1992, and noticed that the captains had to manoeuvre very closely to the ships they wanted to attach towlines to,” says Koos Smoor, manager of fleet performance and innovation at Kotug, a Dutch provider of towage services. “The container ships would approach at 7 or 8 knots, then the tugboat would often have to position itself in front of the bow, maybe as close as a metre to the front of this enormous, moving freighter, sometimes even touching it.” Since he worked on tugboats, the procedures for towline attachment have remained largely unchanged. Tugboat and freighter workers still manage towing lines using their hands. It remains particularly challenging for tugboat captains, as even a minor distraction during steering could mean a hard contact between the tug and a vessel displacing tens of thousands of tonnes. Severe damage to the mast, wheelhouse and other parts of the hull, and injuries among the tugboat crew, can result. About two years ago though, Smoor and others at Kotug noticed that UAVs were being developed and trialled for carrying packages to ships from the shore, and reasoned that ferrying a towline would be comparatively easy. It would enable line connections from further away, and beside the ship instead of in front of it. “We started looking for a partner who could deliver the solution we wanted, and that’s when we found Delft Dynamics,” says Smoor. “We’ve been working on it together ever since.” Towing ships into harbour looks set to become easier and safer with this UAV system, as Rory Jackson explains Tow to tow April/May 2019 | Unmanned Systems Technology Dutch towage company Kotug is looking to deploy UAVs for towline handling, which is among the most dangerous harbour duties for tugboats and their crews