Ports of Auckland welcomes Sparky, the world's first full-sized electric tug boat

"Her arrival marks a big step towards the ports' decarbonisation of operations."
"Her arrival marks a big step towards the ports' decarbonisation of operations." Photo credit: Supplied / YouTube

Ports of Auckland has welcomed Sparky, the world's first full-sized electric tug boat, to Tāmaki Makaurau.

Earlier this week the environmentally friendly tug crossed the Waitematā Harbour for the first time, escorted by the company's current tugs and pilot boats.

The arrival of Sparky - who was named by the New Zealand public in a 2020 competition - has been heralded as a significant milestone for tugs, which traditionally are fuelled by diesel.

"Sparky is the first e-tug of its type in the world and was a truly innovative project for us," Ports of Auckland CEO Roger Gray said.

"Her arrival marks a big step towards the ports' decarbonisation of operations and towards our long-term emissions reduction goals."

Sparky has been in the works for a long time, with discussions about a fully electric tug beginning six years ago.

"Back in 2016, when we first pitched the idea for a fully electric tug, we were told we were dreaming," says Allan D'Souza. who has been leading the e-tug project for the port. A deal was eventually signed in 2019.

"To welcome Sparky to Tāmaki Makaurau and see her in real life is a dream come true."

The company also thanked its partner, Damen Shipyards - the Dutch company who was "up for the challenge in helping us change the game of emissions-free ship-handling options". 

When the public were invited to name the new electric tug, over 3000 people suggested names.

At the time the company said it had eliminated 'Ashley Bloomfield', 'Electric Disco Biscuit', 'Doug' and 'Tuggy McTugface' from the running, eventually giving the public the choice of four names:

  • Ārahi – meaning to lead, escort, conduct, drive
  • E.T. – short for 'Electric Tug'
  • Hiko - meaning electrical, power, electronic, electric, lightning
  • Sparky – diminutive of 'spark', slang for an electrician, related to electricity, but also sparking change.

According to website EVs and Beyond, the e-tug is as powerful as the port's strongest diesel tug - called Hauraki.

"It features 80 battery racks holding 2240 batteries, totalling 2784kWh of power. The e-tug is expected to do up to four shipping moves on a charge of batteries. Recharge time is about two hours," the website stated.

Sparky is anticipated to save around 465 tonnes of CO2 in diesel emissions annually, with an annual running cost of less than a third than that of traditional tugs.

It also has two 1000kW generators which can be used in cases of emergency.

For those e-tug spotting on the Waitematā Harbour, Sparky can be identified easily.

"Her superstructure is painted bright green, unlike our diesel tugs," D'Souza told EVs and Beyond.

"What you won't notice is noise or smoke; being electric, she's a lot quieter, and cleaner, than our current diesel tugs," D'Souza said.