Maritime Tales: A Company History Series | Episode 12

Words by Dave McMillan, former CEO of Vard Marine Inc. (1989-2020)

Jones Act Oil/Chemical Tanker “American Phoenix”
Jones Act Oil/Chemical Tanker “American Phoenix”

In 2005, American Heavy Lift (AHL) awarded Aker Yards Marine (AYM) a contract to design a new diesel electric, twin screw 49,000 DWT Jones Act Oil/Chemical Tanker for Shell with a US operator as a member of the team.  It was a very ambitious project using a “virtual shipyard concept”, developed by the team at AHL. The project called for three vessels to be constructed at various locations in the US Gulf Coast with final assembly at Atlantic Marine. The belief was that the only way to keep overall build costs down was to divide construction of the vessel between several suitably capable facilities on the Gulf Coast and bring them together for final assembly.  The plan was to build the forebody at one location, the stern and machinery space at another, all topside piping at a third, then assemble at Atlantic Marine in Mobile, AL.

The overall design of the vessel was a challenge using many systems and capabilities not common on such vessels.  Most importantly, from a structural standpoint, this Oil/Chemical tanker would be the first US built vessel designed and built to meet the Common Structure Rules that had been adopted by IACS in 2005. There was strong collaboration between America Bureau of Shipping and AYM to ensure the process was as smooth as possible and resulted in the least amount of delay as the work progressed.  Unlike other Jones Act tankers being constructed at the time, this design was unique in having a diesel-electric propulsion with twin screw, twin rudder system resulting in a design that gave superior redundancy, flexibility and maneuverability compared to traditional Jones Act tankers with a two-stroke main engine and single propeller propulsion.  Propulsion for the AHL vessel consisted of three medium speed MaK generator sets equipped with Siemens alternators that drove the two 4650 kW propulsion motors.  Overall, the vessel had a range of 12,000 nautical miles and a service speed of 14 knots.  Other unique features included an asymmetric generator set arrangement to create more overall space in the engine room. This off-center weight was counterbalanced by the main deck pipe rack that was offset to port rather than down the centerline.

The initial steel cutting took place in 2008 and work commenced at the three locations over the next several years.  Unfortunately, as the project was nearing completion, a hurricane passed through the US Gulf Coast and destroyed the topside piping which had to be completely re-constructed.  Furthermore, during this time, Shell had pulled out of the project and the ship operator ran into financial problems, going into bankruptcy.  The ship was eventually sold at auction to Mid Ocean Tanker Co. and was completed at the BAE Systems shipyard in Mobile. It was finally delivered in late 2012.  The ship is still active around the US coast, operating on a route from New Jersey to Florida and finally Texas.