Harbour tugs that were designed to work in South African harbours had also as salvage tugs when required. However, their design was not really suitable for heavy seas, especially as their foredeck was short and they did not have a raised fo’c’sle. When they headed into heavy seas, they took a lot of water inboard, making them very sluggish.



The South African harbour tug T.S. McEwan (built in 1927 and withdrawn from service in 1971) was regarded as a very a powerful tug when she was built. Although she performed some impressive salvage operations, she was not really suited to heavy sea conditions. As her boilers were coal-fired, her range was limited. Photograph : Brian Ingpen/George Young Collection


The beautiful lines of the later harbour tug, F.C. Sturrock, (notably her slightly raised fo’c’sle, long towing deck down aft as well as her oil-fired boilers) made her and similar South African tugs more suitable for ocean towage and salvage operations. Photograph : Brian Ingpen

The stranding of the tanker Wafra at Cape Agulhas in 1971 and her refloating by the powerful German tug Oceanic and the increasing size of tankers and bulk carriers at the time, showed that the South African harbour tugs would not be able to cope should one of these large vessels become disabled off a lee shore, or suffer other difficulties. This prompted the government to launch the Emergency Standby Towing Vessel concept whereby an emergency standby towing vessels – tug(s) – are on standby for operations at all times. The Emergency Standby Towing Vessels are on contract to the government (Department of Transport) and, after receiving a call-out, have 20 minutes to sail to the aid of the casualty. This idea was South African and was South Africa was the first country to implement this concept. It is now used by many countries.

Two large tugs (SA Wolraad Woltemade and SA John Ross) were built and commissioned in 1976. When built, these were the most powerful and fastest tugs in the world

SA Amandla (formerly SA John Ross) is the current Emergency Standby Towing Vessel and is based in Cape Town.


The salvage tug SA Amandla entering Cape Town harbour. Note her raised fo’c’sle and long towing deck. She has a powerful engine and large propeller that enable her to be a very effective tug to for ocean towage operations and for salvage operations. Photograph : Andrew Ingpen