They called her "The ship that would not die." After storming Normandy, surviving Kamikazis strikes off Okinawa, colliding with a sub-chaser in San Francisco, observing nuclear testing at Bikini Island, and maintaining the blockade of North Korea, the destroyer USS Laffey was considered indestructible.
Then, 65 years after her commissioning, the steel hero almost succumbed to old age. The retired ship was enjoying her golden years at Patriot’s Point Naval History Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, when she sprung over 100 leaks in her steel hull. Without a major repair, the ship that had survived some of history’s greatest conflicts was going to sink at the dock.
This time it was America’s turn to save the Laffey. After securing funding and finding a capable repair facility, Patriot’s Point staff searched for a towing company that could move the 376 foot-long wounded warrior.
Enter Charleston’s own Stevens Towing. The local specialists won the million-dollar job by guaranteeing that the USS Laffey would be transported to and from dry dock without incident.
"Other companies refused to take liability or charged too much," says company president, Johnson Stevens, "but we were in a unique position to take advantage of this opportunity."
Not only is Stevens the largest area towing fleet with specialized equipment for performing delicate jobs, but the company had recently upgraded six of its flagship tug boats with Volvo Penta’s D16 4-stroke diesels. "The fuel efficiency and low-end power open new opportunities for our company," Stevens says.
That’s because Volvo’s D16s save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars each year-savings that can be passed on to the company’s clients. "We estimate an $80,000 fuel saving per boat," Stevens says, "that adds up to $480,000 annually."
Add that to an extended lifespan and expanded maintenance schedule and the savings really pile up. "Engine life has increased from 8,500 hours to over 35,000 hours," Stevens adds, "and we only shut down for routine maintenance."
But the advantages don’t end on the spreadsheet, the D16s produce less noise, vibration, and smoke than a comparable 2-cycle allowing the engines to exceed EPA environmental requirements. In fact, Stevens has received matching grants from the federal government that will allow them to replace even more outdated engines.
It all came together when it was time to move the USS Laffey. In August 2009, Stevens Towing carefully transported the last Sumner Class Destroyer to its dry dock at Detyens Shipyards . Two years later, when the repairs were complete, the company’s Volvo-powered tugs and cranes safely returned the ship to its home at Patriots Point. "Volvo gave us the confidence to do the job," Stevens says, "and it went exactly as we planned."