The tug Laura L. Van Enkevort (US 1020314) was built as the Sidney Candies for Otto Candies Inc. It was at least the second vessel to carry that name. A twin-engined, twin-screw
conventional tug, the Sidney Candies was built by Halter Marine at its Lockport, Louisiana, yard and was delivered April 29, 1994. A near-sister tug, the Kelly Candies (now Kelly,
operated by Savage Alafia Operations LLC) was constructed two years earlier in the same yard. Like many Otto Candies tugs, both featured towing winches and a large pilothouse
sandwiched between two tall exhaust stacks, with large windows forward and aft.
Otto Candies is a successful company that dates from the 1940s that supplies marine transportation to the petroleum industry in the Gulf of Mexico and worldwide. Their fleet
consists primarily of offshore supply vessels, large, but conventional tugs, dive boats and barges. The boom and bust cycle of the oil industry means that the fleetís needs are
constantly changing, so the Sidney Candies spent a mere four years in the Candies fleet before being sold in 1998 to Gulfcoast Transit Company, the marine transportation arm of Tampa
Electric Company (TECO).
Gulfcoast Transit (which was renamed TECO Ocean Shipping in 2002) primarily hauled coal from terminals on the Mississippi River near New Orleans to TECO power plants near Tampa,
Florida. Vessels making this trip would typically backhaul phosphate rock, mined in central Florida. While TECO owned a few conventional ships, the majority of their fleet were
ocean-going barges. Once purchased by TECO, the Sidney Candies was modified to include an elevated pilot house and was mated with the 1981-built 550' by 78', 37,700-ton capacity barge
Peggy Palmer (IMO 8637914, US 641530). The tug was renamed Naida Ramil, in honor of the spouse of one of TECO's executives.
For the first few years the pair was used together, Naida Ramil was held in the notch of the barge Peggy Palmer by conventional wires. However, in 2003 or 2004 a Bludworth
connection system was installed on both vessels. The tug was modified at Bender Shipbuilding in Mobile, Alabama, while the barge was retrofitted at International Ship Repair in Tampa.
Ocean Tug and Engineering designed and oversaw the conversion.
TECO Ocean Shipping had more than enough capacity for the coal float across the Gulf of Mexico, so they served many other customers as well. Being U.S. owned and flagged, they
often would receive charters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for export grain. This took the tug and barge to many locations worldwide, including Israel, Georgia, Honduras and
TECO decided to exit the marine transportation business, so in 2008 their fleet was sold to U.S. United Ocean Services. As part of the sale, U.S. United Ocean Services received a
long-term contract to transport coal to the TECO power plants. In 2013, U.S. United Ocean Services was bought out by the International Shipholding Corporation (the owners of Waterman
Shipping and Central Gulf Lines among other shipping entities). On July 31, 2016, International Shipholding Corp. entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allowed it to continue to
operate. In June of 2017 SEACOR Holdings announced they would be purchasing the assets of International Shipholding Corp.
The tug has had its share of incidents over the years. As the Sidney Candies, it experienced a minor grounding on December 24, 1996. As the Naida Ramil, it suffered a major engine
room fire on October 11, 1999 about 125 miles west of Tampa. It took the eight-person crew almost two hours to extinguish the blaze, and the tug and barge had to be towed to port. It
experienced another grounding on March 13, 2003 and, on September 21, 2008, it was involved in a major collision. Naida Ramil was pushing the Peggy Palmer upbound in ballast on the
Mississippi River when they collided with the barge Nicole C loaded with vegetable oil and pushed by the tug Titan. Both barges sustained substantial damage.
Naida Ramil and Peggy Palmer were frequently spotted as laid up as early as 2009, and it is believed that the barge carried its last cargo in 2011. The tug was long rumored to be
for sale, but it was eventually caught up in the International Shipholding Corp. bankruptcy proceedings. In late 2018 the tug was purchased by Van Enkevort Tug and Barge Inc. of
Escanaba, Michigan. Major renovation of the tug was undertaken at Gulf Marine Repair in Tampa. Exterior work included conversion of the old lower pilothouse for bunk space or other
interior use, increasing the height of the raised pilothouse, removing the towing winch and adding supply handling cranes. It is unknown if the tug was repowered. The tug, renamed
Laura L. Van Enkevort, sailed from Tampa for the lakes on Aug. 23, 2019. It arrived in Toledo on September 8, where it was quickly paired up with the barge Joseph H. Thompson. The
barge had been retrofitted with a Bludworth connection system the previous winter, while still retaining its Hydroconn connection system so that the tug Joseph H. Thompson, Jr. could
continue to push the barge until the new tug arrived. The Joseph H. Thompson, Jr. is expected to be refurbished to push the newly-built barge Michigan Trader once it is completed in
2020. The reason for the switch in tugs is apparently because the Laura L. Van Enkevort is 22 feet shorter than the Joseph H. Thompson, Jr. so with the new tug the Joseph H. Thompson
should be able to service docks that the barge with the old tug could not.
Written by Tom Hynes.