Breaking the ice

With its fleet of 11 modern ASD and four conventional tugboats, PKL is an international tugboat company specialising in harbour and sea towage in various ports located across Estonia, Latvia and Finland. Additional services offered by this modern fleet of vessels also include ice breaking, firefighting, people and small cargo transportation and various salvage operations.

“Even though the company as it is now known was officially formed in 1992, it existed previously, before Estonia gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as a state owned port fleet operator,” explains Deniss Lazarevs, chief executive officer of PKL. “It was at the turn of the century that the company began actively looking outside of its home market at new opportunities to grow. This led to its move into Latvia, where today, like in Estonia, it exists as the market leader in its field. Its presence in Finland is still in its infancy and it also has representation in St Petersburg, which it one day hopes to utilise as when the market opens up to greater European competition.”

PKL’s customer base covers tanker and bulker owners and operators from all across Europe, the US, Canada and Asia, all of which call on the company’s services when entering its ports: “In this part of the world an important demand of the company’s clients is for ice breaking assistance,” Deniss continues. “Many of these contracts are carried out on behalf of local governments or port authorities, yet significant demand does come from private customers, particularly during the winter months. In 2010, in one 24-hour period in the Gulf of Finland, PKL recorded as many as 180 vessels becoming stuck in the ice while making their way to and from Russian ports. With the prospect of many of these vessels being trapped for up to several weeks PKL was called in to provide assistance, leading these vessels towards a meeting point of Russian icebreakers or back to open water.”

Very much a modern company, with a majority of its vessels being built no earlier than the year 2000, one of the key characteristics of PKL is its commitment to carrying out research and development in regards to both its equipment and services: “PKL is not a company that simply purchases standardised vessels from shipyards or tugs on the second hand market. Rather it works to develop its own solutions, tuning its vessels in accordance to specific operational needs in close partnership with various engineering companies,” Deniss states. “When the right piece of equipment cannot be found on the market, PKL turns to its partners, Rolls-Royce for example, which is its main supplier of winches and propulsion units, to design and engineer a solution.

“PKL’s attitude to improving its operations also extends to the wider industry with its involvement in several EU projects. One that has recently been completed involved the evaluating of hull structures and the stress they go through in icy conditions. Now PKL’s attention has turned to a venture that intends to result in the creation of a sophisticated, automatic robotic system that will assist in the reconnection of broken towlines. This innovative automatic system is designed to bring additional safety features to sea towage operations.”

Turning to the subject of current business conditions, Deniss sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic: “In general PKL has an overwhelming feeling of positivity, one that is boosted by the recovery it is witnessing in the market today. This development has in turn prompted many of the company’s ports to invest in new terminals, investments that are likely to be paid back in the form of new cargo coming in on a more frequent basis. As port volume levels increase, PKL is continuing with its aggressive new build programme as it looks to both increase its presence in its current locations and to expand into new ports across the region.

“Throughout its history PKL has been defined by its commitment to continuous expansion. While it is not a company that is presently big enough to build a large series of tugs at one time, it does endeavor to start a new project each year. This philosophy will remain in place for the foreseeable future as the company looks to enlarge its operations in ways that will make it easier for PKL to grow in Finland and undertake operations in other surrounding countries. This is something that the company is very much looking forward to working towards.”

Owner of bespoke tugboat fleet
Providers of ice breaking services
Heavily involved in R&D projects