If you've never heard of Crowley Maritime Corp. there's a good reason for that. The things they do don't make headlines. You won't hear their name on the evening news.

Over their 120-year history, the company has grown from a one-man operation, armed with nothing more than one Whitehall rowboat to a worldwide marine, transportation and logistics services provider. They safely transport millions of barrels of fuel from refineries to seaports in many U.S. markets via an exceptional fleet of vessels manned by experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated crews.

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the newest addition to the fleet, The Legend 750-2, an articulated tug barge (ATB), and the second of three vessels in its class. This particular 330,000-barrel petroleum tank vessel was built at the VT Halter Marine shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., and will transport Marathon gasoline weekly from Louisiana to Tampa, Port Everglades and Jacksonville.

Crowley says the vision that brought about the 750 series of articulated tug barges goes back to 2006. Such vessels enable the tug to 'lock in' inside of the stern of the barge and ride along as a single vessel. Empty it reaches a maximum speed of 13 knots, full it's closer to 12.

Crowley's 750 series: Articulated Tug Barges

As the executives explained it just before the christening, Marathon was looking for a cost-effective way to supply petroleum products to the Port of Tampa and Crowley was looking to retain a longstanding, solid relationship with its customer.

The resulting vessels are simply exceptional and it appears to all that it's due to a corporate commitment to safety 24/7.

Gregg Qualls, Marine Logistics Manager at Marathon Oil, said this:
"The Marathon-Crowley relationship began 11 years ago. In 2006 Marathon-Crowley began discussion of the 750 series... Due to our major expansion in Garyville, LA and our need to clear additional capacity..." Marathon entered what he called "a partnership to achieve common goals."

"Over our 11 year partnership, Crowley has delivered 11.5 billion gallons of product for Marathon and has released less than one gallon into the water, and that's certainly the type of company we want to be in business with."

David Cunningham, 2nd Mate and navigation officer of the tug, (one of a crew of 14) elaborated on the Legend 750-2's engineering and design focus on safety. From the Control Room he proudly displayed the bank of computer screens from which he is able to monitor 14 storage tanks and several ballast tanks. At a glance they can see the capacity of each tank, its temperature, and its IG (inert gas) pressure that helps reduce motion and volatility of the cargo. Each cargo tank has its own pump.

The vessel has two generators. And if any problem should develop in the engine room the captain has an adjacent room from which he can continue navigation seamlessly with no interruption.

Cunningham said that at every turn the doubled-hulled vessel is designed with safety and redundancies. For instance, when any of the cargo tanks is being filled, the tanks use float sensors and there are both visual and audible alarms in the control room and on deck to advise when a tank's capacity has reached 95 percent and another should it approach 98 percent. "You don't want to go past 98!" he said.

For added safety, the cargo tanks are built to the ships interior, and ballast tanks are exterior, providing greater insulation and protection against any structural damage.

Gasoline and other petroleum cargo temperatures are usually between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, depending upon the product, but alarms will also go off if the temperature in any of the tanks reaches 100-degrees.

Based on the speed at which fuel is being loaded, crew could have anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to react should an alert be sounded at 95 percent in order to avoid reaching 100 percent or what could lead to a potential spillage.

Crowley-operated vessels discharge an average of 163 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel into the Port of Tampa each month. Much of that reaches consumers in the greater Tampa Bay region and extends across Central FL to Orlando and even to Daytona on the Atlantic Coast.

Certainly, it was an eye-opening lesson. Vessels such as Crowley's Legend 750-2, christened last week, are an important but undoubtedly overlooked part of our nation's oil infrastructure. It takes commitment and investment to put such a success story in motion and it's something for which we can all be grateful.

(I just wish the company was publicly-traded because after seeing what I saw, I'd gladly invest in it.)