Cenac Towing Company is one of the great American success stories in the history of the marine transportation industry. For three generations, the family-run company became the premier towing and barge carrier for the oil and gas industry along the Gulf Coast and throughout the Mississippi River Valley and the Intracoastal Waterway. Its dedication to customer service, performance excellence, and technological advancements in tugboats, pushboats, and tank barges speaks to the fundamental principles of the “Cenac Way” of doing business. This business philosophy embodies the highest standards of ethics and equipment maintenance known in the industry. These core values, established by the founders nearly a century ago, have been imbedded in the people and culture of Cenac Towing through time. Jason Theriot’s new book captures the legacy of this Louisiana-based towing company and honors the people who built it.
Founded in 1927 by Ovide “Jock” Cenac, the company got its start by chartering oyster luggers to The Texas Company (Texaco) in support of the newly discovered oil fields in in coastal Louisiana. The Cenacs converted their family-owned wooden fishing boats to haul equipment out to the oilfields and to tow barges loaded with crude oil back to inland terminals. In time, Cenac Towing evolved into a dynamic empire that provided an array of critical services and products to the oil industry, primarily through the operation of a fleet of state-of-the-art boats and barges to move petroleum based-products and oilfield equipment to market. The company specialized in all thing’s oil related, from hauling crude, to supporting floating drilling rigs, and to moving refined products to and from refineries from Texas City to Mobile and up and down the Mississippi River. Based in Houma, Louisiana, the company earned the reputation as one of the most reliable, innovative, and successful marine transportation firms in the U.S.
Cenac Towing’s milestone developments and innovations in the marine industry have been many. It was one of the first local companies to operate purpose-built tugboats and steel barges for use in the shallow inland Gulf Coast waterways to haul crude oil. As the needs of the industry grew, the company expanded and diversified into other novel areas. It developed a large capacity to store and deliver various kinds of liquid products, including bulk drilling mud, lube oil, and diesel fuel, to the oil and gas industry. It was the first company to develop and deploy a combination diesel fuel and freshwater barge service line to supply drilling, production, and pipelaying operations offshore. Cenac tugs were the workhorses of the industry; they towed and pushed just about anything that floated. As the oil companies moved further offshore into deeper waters, Cenac’s tugs and barges followed in tow. The company built a fleet of powerful offshore tugs and heavy-duty barges to handle the rigors of the Gulf of Mexico. For much of the post-World War II era, Cenac operated the majority of the U. S. Coast Guard certified offshore barges for hauling crude oil out from the offshore platforms. In the 1970s, the company built its own fully functioning shipyard on the Houma Navigation Canal, thereby revolutionizing its barge maintenance and new construction operations. Cenac became the first boat company to install Cummins diesel engines on its boats. In the wake of major environmental reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, the towing company went beyond regulatory compliance. It was the first tank barge operator to invest in all double-skinned barges. It built its own training school and developed an inhouse environmental services company that focused on oil spill response. Due to its commitment to environmental protections and with an impeccable safety record, Cenac Towing became one of the first marine companies to institute a U. S. Coast Guard approved Self Inspection Program for its vessels. The company pioneered a novel method for well flow-back testing—actually flowing the liquids from a newly drilled well directly into a floating barge—on several high-profile drilling and production projects in Mobile Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico. And in 2005, Cenac achieved an industry first by successfully mooring of a petroleum barge to a semi-submersible drilling rig for a monumental offshore well-testing project in deepwater.
All these accolades notwithstanding, the success of the company must ultimately be attributed to its people. The growth of Cenac Towing is a direct result of the decisions made by its leaders and the dedication of the company personnel to their jobs. Guided by the high standards of excellence established long ago by the founder, Jock Cenac, the people of Cenac Towing have over the generations displayed an unwavering sense of pride in their work and their company. They have endured tragedies, internal strife, and debilitating downturns that threatened the company’s survival. They adapted to changes in regulations and technology—all while staying ahead of the needs of the major oil companies by providing those essential services with an ironclad commitment to vessel maintenance and customer satisfaction. The company and its people always strived to be the best in the business and never settled for anything less.
Each generation of leadership in the Cenac organization had its own unique challenges and milestone achievements. Adapting to these changes and pushing innovative solutions in the marine business has been a key driver to the company’s success over the last century. Its formidable reputation has been based on maintaining high standards of industry excellence in equipment and personnel and customer dedication. Those threads have made up the very fabric of the company’s identity over time. This history provides an inside look into how the leaders of this family-owned towing company built a dominant marine enterprise by perpetuating the ideals and traditions of the “Cenac Way” of doing business.