The port’s guardian fleet

The Denis M has spent its entire life sailing the waters of the Port of Montreal. It is celebrating 70 years of dedicated service in 2012. And it’s still at work!

The Denis M is the Port of Montreal’s tugboat. Or “small tugboat,” as its captain, Michel Dufour, so affectionately calls it. With a 350-horsepower engine, it is not as powerful as Ocean Group’s new 3,500-horsepower tugs. But it’s more than strong enough to transport in both good and bad weather the Port of Montreal maintenance employees who are responsible for surveying the riverbed and supervising dredging operations and berth maintenance. Dufour is the port’s marine works and floating equipment supervisor. His team includes two certified vessel operators who can replace the captain if the need arises.

The Port of Montreal fleet also includes two barges that the Denis M pushes. The NHB M73 carries a brand-new 18 tonne-capacity crane that is used for maintenance work such as repairing or changing marine fenders. Fenders are single or double rubber tires that are located on dockwalls about halfway between the water and the top of a berth. They provide a cushion between the concrete berth and a ship’s hull. Learn more about this in A day in the life of the Denis M.

The second barge, Sounding Scow No. 3, is used to survey the riverbed in order to identify locations that require dredging. All kinds of items can be found on the riverbed, from sandbanks to scrap material and other waste carried by the current. Now that the port is completely fenced in, large items such as household appliances and scrapped vehicles are rarely discovered. “We once pulled out a 35-tonne rock at Section 68 at Termont Terminal,” Dufour said. River currents and ice end up being strong movers!

The Sounding Scow No. 3 barge transports a 40-foot-wide hydraulic bar. Four winches are used to lower the bar into the water. The bar then skims the riverbed. When it finds an obstacle or high spot, it raises itself. In doing so, it activates a weight that moves a marker along a ruler on the barge. Previously, someone read the marker. Now, an electronic device records in real time the difference in the level of the riverbed that the marker has measured. “The bar is more than 30 years old. It is strong and reliable,” Dufour said.

Where does the name NHB M73 originate? NHB stands for National Harbours Board, which ran the port until 1983, when the Montreal Port Corporation was created. It became the Montreal Port Authority in 1999.











Port waters, including those at Contrecoeur, are surveyed twice a year, in spring and autumn, over a width of 120 feet from port berths, and over a width of up to 600 feet where, for example, ships turn around. Beyond that, the Canadian Coast Guard and the federal government’s Public Works department conduct the surveys.

Sounding Scow No. 3

When sounding equipment detects a high spot that would be dangerous to a ship, Dufour immediately advises Stefan Routhier, the assistant harbour master, who then issues a notice to shipping. The captains of all ships in port are alerted. Ocean Group, a private company and port partner, conducts the dredging operations.

The tugboat and barges are given an in-depth cleaning every spring. The work includes painting and repairs. The tugboat goes into dry-dock every four years, where it is removed from the water and a thorough inspection is conducted. Vessels that are more than 40 years old enter dry-dock every four years; newer ships go in every five years.

Dufour’s team stays extremely busy. They repaint the port’s 940 bollards and clearly re-inscribe the number on each one over a three-year period. To learn more about this, see In a mariner’s words.

Dufour is very serious when it comes to employee safety. He gathers his team each and every week to discuss any problems that may have come up or things than can be improved. He is organized and prudent, and he doesn’t let anything go.

Over the past five years, the port has invested $1.5 million to freshen up its fleet and ensure that it meets new Transport Canada regulations.
For example, vessels are no longer permitted to release black water from toilets into the river. The Denis M now has a reservoir whose contents are regularly pumped into the city’s sewer system. All of these improvements mean that the waters of the Port of Montreal are much cleaner now than they were a few years ago.

Michel Dufour, who captains the Denis M, is a Dufour from La Malbaie. A longtime seafarer, his father, brother and two uncles have worked as pilots on the river. “It’s family here. This work is in our blood,” he said.