Industry insight: A lifetime in B.C.'s tug industry

By BCShippingNews
December 5 2017
Leo Stradiotti, North Arm Transportation
Leo Stradiotti, North Arm Transportation

When asked about his background and when he first joined North Arm Trans-portation (NAT), Leo Stradiotti held up a photo of himself at the approximate age of four or five, standing on the dock that could be seen from where we now sit. While technically “retired” from day-to-day operations at North Arm, he still spends his time split between NAT, the Council of Marine Carriers where he has held the position of Chairman for the past nine years and Langara Island Lodge. Few in British Columbia’s tug industry can claim more experience than Stradiotti.

BCSN: You and North Arm Transportation are inextricably linked. Perhaps we could tackle both backgrounds at the same time.

LS: My Father and his two brothers started Stradiotti Brothers (SB) in the very early 1940s. At that time, the work focused on the river, towing logs and fish buying. In the late 1950s, when that business started to change, they incorporated North Arm Transportation which, at that time, focused primarily on fuel and small freight deliveries. SB was eventually folded into NAT.

I’ve worked here all my life — on the boats; in a little shipyard we used to operate; in the maintenance shop; and in the office. I was in my mid-30s when I took over as President. Today, my son Mike and my cousin Gino are in charge.

BCSN: Could you tell me about today’s operations at NAT. Also, could you describe your fleet?

LS: Both operations and fleet have changed considerably over the years and continue to do so today, mostly in response to the changing business climate. Currently, we have five tugs that range in age from 10 to 30 years; two Class A (by Lloyd’s Register) double-hull combination fuel/deck freight barges (the Genesis is about five years old and the Pioneer was rebuilt and double-hulled about three years ago); eight single-hull barges ranging from 125 feet to 250 feet for general freight; and an oil storage barge with a tank which is permanently secured.

Our main business is transporting fuel along the coast to communities, villages and logging camps. NAT is the largest independent marine re-seller of fuel on the West Coast and has a fleet of combination fuel barges, storage barges and trucks that can provide fuel to anywhere on the coast.

In addition to fuel transportation, NAT also provides tug and barge services to move equipment and commodities up and down the coast — for example, they are involved in several run-of-the-river hydro-electric projects and short sea shipping routes, including container transportation between Vancouver Harbour and Nanaimo. That activity in particular has the potential to grow significantly.

We have our Mitchell Island facility. This has a shore-side ramp with a 100-ton capacity, multiple forklifts ranging from 8,000 to 30,000 pounds’ capacity and a crane service that includes an 80-ton Manitowoc crane. All of our facility crew are fully licensed and certified to handle dangerous goods as well.

We also have the Masset Division of North Arm which provides and delivers fuel to the communities of Haida Gwaii, including the Masset area and Graham Island. The fuel storage barge located in Masset, has a 1.2 million-litre capacity. And just south of Masset, we operate a bulkhead for loading and unloading freight.

BCSN: Could you describe the trends in activity you’ve seen?

LS: Over the last number of years, the work climate has been quite stable in the sense that there have not been extremes in the level of activity. However, at one time, towing logs was the main activity of the tow boat industry. SB/NAT used to have booming grounds and storage facilities which supported the log towing business. As the logging industry changed the towing industry changed, moving away from flat booms towards bundles of logs and self-loading log barges to accommodate that kind of work. 

To read the full article from the December 2017 / January 2018 issue of BC Shipping News, please log in.