News & Updates: Port Bureau News: July 2020

Buffalo Marine Leads the Way in Barge/Bunkering Service

Thursday, July 23, 2020  
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From Corpus Christi, Texas to Mobile, Alabama, the distinctive “Buffalo blue” and white tow and tank barge vessels from Buffalo Marine Service can be spotted plying the waterways. Family-owned since 1935, Buffalo Marine Service, Inc. (Buffalo Marine), consistently exceeds customer expectations by employing state-of-the-art equipment that delivers a superior level of service.

 

All photos courtesy of Buffalo Marine Service, Inc.

 

The strength of the company lies in its dedicated employees. Skilled wheelmen, tankermen, and deckhands aboard vessels are supported by an accomplished shoreside team. Overseeing all operations are CEO Patrick Studdert and president, Tim Studdert, his son. Each employee knows they can count on the Studderts for support in serving customers with the best options, and both are quick to credit the can-do attitude and strong team spirit of employees for the success of Buffalo Marine.

“I think it’s got a lot to do with [the fact that] your people believe in you, you know what’s going on, and they trust you … When someone has a recommendation, I listen. I may not always agree and I may ask a bunch of stupid questions, but I’ll listen,” Pat Studdert, renown in the industry for his coach-like management style, told the Port Bureau.

 

“We not only want our employees to participate in the development of our procedures – we’ve come to expect and rely on it,” adds Tim. “Ultimately, when you empower your people to tackle the unexpected, they will get the job done and keep the customer happy.”

 

From bunkering to inland tows, the Buffalo Marine teams put their skill and enthusiasm to the test every day. The company boasts a fleet of 20 towing vessels and 36 barges, including those operated by Tim’s barge transportation company, Shamrock Marine, LLC. Buffalo Marine has invested years in building an optimal fleet. Their newest tugs – the M/V San Roberto, the M/V CJ Studdert, the M/V Tracee Lynn, and the M/V Lt. Dick Dowling - meet the latest safety and environmental standards. Every Buffalo Marine vessel is designed to optimize crew endurance, maximize the use of state-of-the-art technology, and exceed industry safety standards.

 

The company’s specialty is fueling ships or bunkering - a term that harkens back to the  days of steamships , when the fuel, coal , was stored in bunkers. It’s a multifaceted process that requires outstanding communication and committed skill, making the value of Buffalo Marine’s communications equipment investment seen daily.

 

Bunker barges must be navigated safely alongside a vessel, with both bunker and ship crew working hand-in-glove to ensure every aspect of the operation is safely performed. Once alongside, the initial communications between the Buffalo Marine tankerman and nominated-vessel’s duty engineer sets the stage for a successful and stress-free bunkering evolution. Nothing is left to chance as the delivery protocol is exhaustively reviewed including the type of fuel, rate of delivery, order of delivery - if more than one type of bunker is being delivered; confirmation of signals; and pipeline-tank alignment review. As Coach Pat is apt to say, “Nothing is left to chance and you need to tell them everything three times to ensure there is absolutely no confusion during this critical undertaking.”

 

 

A process for fuel sampling must also be implemented. This is because contaminants have been known to slip into fuel stocks and create problems for ships. Each time Buffalo Marine dispenses bunker fuel to a vessel, it takes a sample that is held for 90 days. If the vessel has a fuel-related problem, a ship’s representative calls the fuel supplier and that supplier contacts Buffalo Marine to request the sample.

 

The Buffalo Marine bunkering team keeps highly alert for potential risks. An accidental oil spill can cause huge financial loss and environmental concerns. Equally important are health issues.  Marine fuel needs to be heated up to a certain temperature before it can be pumped, increasing the chance of skin burns or other problems. The oil contains carcinogens and can sometimes produce hydrogen sulfides which when inhaled can cause serious health problems.

 

It is easy to see why teamwork and communication are prized by Buffalo Marine. It both permeates the company culture and develops as individual skillsets. Without these attributes it would be difficult for the Buffalo Marine team to bunker scores of vessels every week of every year. Indeed, their track record for safe productivity and happy customers is impressive.

 

When reflecting over his past half century of working at Buffalo Marine, Pat has seen a few changes in the business. He opines, “Safety, respecting the environment, just-in-time commerce, those concepts have certainly grown in importance over the years – as they should. Technology, on the other hand, moves a bit more slowly. After all, a barge is a rectangular box that can only be moved so fast.”

 

However, he notes that double-hulled barges, mass flow meters, and more efficient power plants have all brought improvements to the bunkering business. He also realizes that being the best in your business does not necessarily protect a company from severe economic downturns. Consequently, he made a strategic decision over the past two decades to diversify the company’s portfolio of services by adding line haul tows to the Buffalo Marine fleet and operating fleeting areas to accommodate the growing number of barges awaiting orders throughout the Houston Ship Channel. Tim Studdert has also spearheaded this effort and commented, “Dad has bunkers in his blood and Buffalo Marine will always be a bunker company but, in today’s world, we need to balance our portfolio of services. Line haul tows and fleets benefit our existing customer base while simultaneously strengthening our position in the regional inland marine business.”

 

While coal has long been replaced as a fuel source for the thousands of deepdraft vessels that call upon the Gulf Coast ports, the ever-decreasing sulphur limits in bunker fuel has necessitated the transformation of the bunker fleet from single fuel barges to combinations barges. Since the beginning of the year, ships cannot burn fuel with more than 0.5% sulphur anywhere in the world unless they are equipped with scrubbers. Buffalo Marine has nimbly adapted to the varying demands of marine gas oil, low sulphur intermediate fuel oil and high sulphur blends. The bottom line is that what is ordered, must be delivered and the different fuels must remain completely segregated at all times.

 

 

Pat Studdert acknowledges that as the pace of commerce intensifies, so do the expectations. “I am continually asked, where will the business be in 10 years? Will bunker fuel be displaced by LNG, methanol, bio diesel blends, or some sort of pie-in-the-sky green fuel? All I can say is that there is a lot of oil in the world and ports across the globe will sell it to you. Maybe, one day, LNG will be available worldwide but, until then, fuel oil is here to stay.”

 

As evidenced by Pat’s many years at the helm of Buffalo Marine, he has tackled countless challenges and confronted numerous problems. Upon reflection on the future of the business and, Buffalo Marine in particular, he offered, “When I sat down with Tim and made him President several years ago, I told him we are in the people business. Every time a Buffalo crewmember ties up alongside another ship to deliver bunkers, he needs to know he is not just delivering fuel but he is representing our nation, our port and our company. If we are discourteous or rude to a foreign seafarer that person will believe all Americans are rude. Treat everyone with respect and always go the extra mile for your customers no matter how they treat you. That is what we emphasize to the Buffalo team day in and day out. If we can’t sell that to our employees, it’s time to pack up our lunch and head home!”