Magazine for ports, shipping and logistics

Full speed ahead – with a fleet of tugs and integrity

Founded in 1905 under the name “Fairplay Schleppdampfschiffs-Reederei Richard Borchard”, today, the Fairplay Towage Group is one of the leading towage companies in Europe.


“Shipping has changed dramatically since our establishment, mainly due to the introduction of containers. We have always adapted with the times and continually offered our customers tailor-made solutions. One thing that hasn’t changed is our promise to offer our services at a fair price, with integrity and honesty. Our name is a reflection of this,” stated Holger Schwesig, Managing Director, Fairplay Towage Group.

This philosophy has served the company well over the past 117 years. Since the merger of Fairplay Towage and Bugsier in 2017, the company now has bases in 29 European ports, including Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Bremen, Bremerhaven, Brake, Nordenham, Wilhelmshaven, Rostock, Wismar and Mukran. The group is also represented in the Polish ports of Gdynia, Świnoujście and Szczecin. Fairplay Towage offers its maritime services worldwide from these ports and numerous other locations with a total of 105 tugboats, which are suitable for a wide range of requirements thanks to their high performance propulsion systems of up to 5,500 kilowatts and a bollard pull of up to 105 tonnes.

One provider, abundant solutions

The backbone of the group is tugboat assistance, offshore towage, long-distance towing and coastal protection. The tugboat assistance service involves ships of all kinds – from container ships to bulk carriers and supertankers – being safely manoeuvred in the port with one or more tugboats, whilst the offshore towage service includes oil rig manoeuvre and the towing of docks and hoisting platforms for offshore wind energy, amongst other things. “Long-distance towing assignments could even involve transporting a ship from the Bahamas to Bremerhaven,” explained Schwesig. The managing director is particularly proud that, as a founding member of the German association of tug and salvage operators, Fairplay is currently providing the federal government with the three special tugboats – the “Baltic”, “Fairplay 35” and “Nordic” – to provide emergency assistance and prevent damage to the environment.

The “Vilm” is one of five oil-fighting vessels operated by the Fairplay Towage Group on behalf of the German government and coastal federal states.
In addition to these four main pillars, Fairplay Towage Group’s services also include pontoon transport, salvage operations, mooring, as well as classic shipyard work, ship repairs and special steel construction – with the latter three services being offered at the Theodor Buschmann shipyard in Hamburg. “Last but not least, our activities are rounded off by the prevention of pollution incidents. We have been managing several oil-fighting vessels on behalf of the German government and coastal German states for over 20 years. These currently include five vessels, namely the Knectsand, Vilm, Mposs, Kiel and Westensee,” said Schwesig.

A plea for better port cooperation

Reflecting on the developments of the past two-and-a-half years, he summarised: “So far, the pandemic and war in Ukraine have not had a major impact on our daily operations. What has changed is the fact that ships are entering ports more irregularly. But up to now we have always been flexible enough to adapt to these requirements.” That said, this kind of flexibility is something that Schwesig feels is lacking when it comes to the cooperation between German seaports. “Germany is lacking an overall strategy to be better positioned in relation to international competition. The key here is to throw old animosity and pride overboard and to work together on solutions that extend beyond individual port boundaries. If we were to cooperate more closely with one another, there would be a much higher chance of competing with the likes of Rotterdam and Antwerp, for example, whose efficiency and collaboration with other ports is, in my opinion, impressive.”


The Fairplay Towage Group has bases in 29 European ports with 105 different types of tugboat.

Focusing on environmental protection and young talent

The greatest challenges Schwesig faces over the next few years are decarbonisation and the search for more environmentally friendly fuels and technologies along with the necessary infrastructure. In his view, however, this is not an issue that companies can address single-handedly, but rather a challenge that can only be overcome with the combined efforts of various maritime players and with political intervention. “We have already established close contact with port authorities, navigators, mooring companies and other port service providers in order to find novel solutions for the challenges we face. For example, with the support of the service provider Lion Rock, we are working on a fuel efficiency project in which we have provided our captains in Rotterdam with helpful tips on fuel economy. Our most recent analysis showed that we have been able to save up to 30 per cent in fuel, so we have now extended this concept to other ports as well.”

In terms of his company’s future plans, Schwesig also heads the promotional campaign for Fairplay Towage’s apprenticeship programme, figuratively throwing out the towlines for potential young talent. “We are one of the last major German shipping companies to offer a training programme for ship mechanics with subsequent career opportunities up to captain level. Not only does this role involve a high degree of responsibility on the tugboat, but also attractive working hours – or so I think!” Each week on board is followed by a week off, contrary to the hours of sea captains, who are often away for up to six months. And not to mention how fascinating it must be to tow a vessel up to ten times the size of your tugboat – such as a container ship or cruise ship – through a port with accuracy to the precise centimetre. (bre)

Holger Schwesig, Managing Director, Fairplay Towage Group

“Germany is lacking an overall strategy to be better positioned in relation to international competition.”

Holger Schwesig, Managing Director, Fairplay Towage Group


Fairplay Towage Group

Established: 1905
Headquarters: Hamburg
Group companies: Fairplay Towage,
Bugsier, Theodor Buschmann and a 50 per cent share
in Multraship Towage & Salvage and Antwerp Towage
Fleet: 105 tugboats
Employees: Approx. 1,030

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