Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Alaska Prepares for Arctic Traffic

By Jim Shaw

The sailing of the bulk carrier Nordic Orion through the Northwest Passage this past September served notice that the waters off Alaska and northern Canada are no longer just the preserve of fishermen, oil drillers and adventurers. Operated by Denmark's Nordic Bulk Carriers, the 225-meter-long ice-strengthened ship carried 73,500 tons of coal from Vancouver, Canada to Pori, Finland, arriving there in early October. In the process it became the first vessel in history to carry a full commercial cargo through the passage.

As pointed out in the September issue of Pacific Maritime Magazine (see Access Project Cargo for Resource Extraction) the Northwest Passage is not expected to become a regular commercial sea route but it may host more commercial ships each season, the result of shrinking ice coverage. Nordic Bulk said it was able to save about $80,000 in fuel costs by sending its ship northwards instead of through the Panama Canal because the route between Vancouver and Pori is about 1,000 nautical miles shorter "over the top." In addition, the vessel was able to carry around 25 percent more cargo than it would have been able to had it travelled via the shallower canal.

Although insurance was about 30 percent higher for the arctic crossing there were no Panama Canal transit fees to pay, and the ice-strengthened bulker didn't require an icebreaker escort, although it was accompanied through much of its passage by the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent. Nevertheless, its hull insurer, Great Britain's RSA Group, noted that there was a very narrow time frame in which the voyage could have been safely accomplished - and insured.

Cruising the Northwest Passage
Although there hasn't yet been an announcement for further commercial cargo voyages through the Northwest Passage in 2014 a number of cruise companies are already planning full or partial transits next year as public interest in the region grows. The first transit by a cruise ship was made nearly three decades ago by the small 1969-built Lindblad Explorer, a pioneering expedition-type vessel that was lost off Antarctica in 2007. Since then a large number of cruise transits have been accomplished and next year six different operators will make use of the passage. This includes Lindblad Expeditions, which will operate two voyages, a 25-day trip departing July 28 and a 24-day trip departing August 19, both using its 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer.

Compagnie du Ponant of France, which made an Arctic transit with its 224-passenger Le Soléal earlier this year – the first French commercial ship to transit the Northwest Passage – also plans to return next year, as does Germany's Hapag-Lloyd Cruises with its 164-passenger Bremen and 184-passenger Hanseatic. Newcomers will include Adventure Canada, which will operate the 114-passenger Sea Adventurer as far as Kugluktuk, and One Ocean Expeditions, a new company that will employ the veteran 96-passenger Russian research vessel Akademik Ioffe.

Upscale operator Silversea Expeditions plans to make a full transit from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to Nome, Alaska with its 132-passenger Silver Explorer, a trip that will depart from Greenland August 9.

New Pollution Regulations
While the costs of meeting new US federal air-pollution regulations coming into effect in 2015 are not expected to impact ships that charge their passengers $30,000 to transit the Northwest Passage, the laws are already seeing deployment changes take place in southern Alaska where cruise numbers may actually shrink in 2014 after hitting nearly 1 million passengers this year.

Los Angles-based Princess Cruises has already announced plans to shift several ships, with the 680-passenger Pacific Princess scheduled to operate in the 49th state next year while at least one of this year's larger ships, Sapphire Princess, will move to Japan. On the East Coast, associated Carnival Cruise Lines will move ships out of Boston, Baltimore and Norfolk because of the regulations and will limit the number of cruises it will make along the North Atlantic seaboard.

John Binkley, president of Cruise Line International Association's Alaska chapter, said the moves come as cruise lines try to avoid the new, stronger federal air-pollution regulations which will mandate the burning of cleaner but more expensive fuel along the US coastline. "They've been working under the assumption that the emission control area, which requires them to burn very expensive fuel, would be in effect," noted Binkley, "and that influenced their decisions to move ships to other locations."

Although Alaska filed a lawsuit against the regulations last year, stating they would "increase the cost of shipping goods to and from the state," as well as "decrease state revenues by increasing the cost to export natural resources," the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge earlier this year for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Alaska's Department of Law has said it is considering an appeal. At the same time several cruise lines have announced they will start testing new technology that could allow their ships to meet the air emission regulations while still burning standard fuel.

Meeting Requirements
Carnival Corporation, the parent company of both Carnival Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises, announced in September that it will invest more than $180 million in new technology it is developing with an undisclosed partner that will clean the exhaust of its ships and allow them to meet the new requirements. In this quest it has won the support of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Coast Guard and Transport Canada with an agreement in principle that will give Carnival an exemption to use the fuel source for its vessels that "makes the most sense" from an environmental and economic perspective.

Carnival's proposed scrubber equipment is said to combine two established technologies which have already been successfully used in power plants, factories and on vehicles to clean exhaust from high-sulfur fuel. The goal is to use the two technologies jointly to develop a system capable of being accommodated in the restricted spaces existing aboard Carnival's ships, some of which have different engine configurations. Besides carrying the scrubber technology, Carnival ships will also make use of either low-sulfur marine gas oil or shoreside power hookups while in US and Canadian ports.

Initially, Carnival proposes to fit the new equipment to 32 vessels operated regularly within the North American Emission Control Area (ECA) by its Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard brands. Looking ahead, the company plans to explore the possibility of expanding the installation of the scrubber technology beyond the initial 32 ships, with the technology eventually expected to be made available to other cruise lines.

Towing Merger
In Alaska's towing sector an Anchorage superior court judge approved a deal in October that will allow Lynden Inc, the parent company of Alaska Marine Lines (AML), to buy competitor Northland Services, providing Sitka-based Samson Tug and Barge is allowed to expand into the state's southeast sector.

Under the arrangement, first announced back in April, Northland will remain an independent company but will operate under the Lynden umbrella with its current management team in place. However, some of its equipment and services will be taken over by Samson Tug and Barge while Samson will also be able to lease space aboard AML barges and have a guaranteed barge charter from AML during peak shipping seasons. In addition, Sitka-based Samson will have the option to rent AML terminal facilities and storage space in Southeast Alaska and in Seattle.

Samson Vice President Cory Baggen said the company plans to start its new service into southeast Alaska this month but noted that final details are still being worked out. Expected ports-of-call will be Ketchikan, Prince of Wales, Wrangell, Petersburg and Juneau.

AML President Kevin Anderson said the acquisition of Northland will help his company in Seattle, where Northland has substantial property, as well as allow it to become a "full service" Alaska seafood packager, carrier and marketer for the Bristol Bay, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor areas.

Salvage Partnership
Consolidation is also taking place in Alaska's salvage sector where Dutch Harbor-based Magone Marine Services has been acquired by Florida's Resolve Marine Group to form Resolve-Magone Marine Services (Alaska). Dan Magone, founder of 40-year-old Magone Marine, is continuing to oversee the company's operations in Alaska but with the help of Resolve specialists as well as Resolve equipment. The latter includes two recently repositioned salvage vessels, the 80-ton bollard pull tug Resolve Pioneer and the crane-equipped salvage barge RMG 300.

One of the first jobs undertaken by the new company was salvage of the fishing vessel Lone Star this autumn that was in a partially submerged state in the Igushik River near Dillingham. The 78-foot boat had capsized earlier this year, apparently when a change in tide swung it against its anchor chain, detaching several fittings and creating a hole in the hull.

Resolve-Magone, along with the Alaska Chadux Corporation, were contracted to both remove the vessel from the river and mitigate any pollution. The boat had gone down with a reported 14,000 gallons of diesel, 150 gallons of lube oil, 150 gallons of hydraulic fluid and 250 gallons of gasoline on board. This had created a consistent sheen on the water that had shut down the local sockeye fishery at peak season. Resolve-Magone used two cranes to move the vessel to shallow water were it was pumped out and refloated for movement to a repair yard.

Alaska Newbuild
In the Alaska panhandle, Vigor Industrial's Alaska Ship & Drydock (ASD) facility at Ketchikan saw the new 136-foot by 40-foot freezer longliner Arctic Prowler christened in early October as the first vessel to be completed in ASD's new 70,000-square foot assembly and production hall – and the first factory longliner to be built in Alaska.

Designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants of Seattle for Alaska Longline Company the new boat can accommodate a crew of 22 in 8 staterooms and can fish 56,000 hooks per day while having 16,300 cubic feet of freezer space available for approximately 735,000 pounds of fish. Propulsion for the new boat is provided by twin eight-cylinder MTU 8V4000 M53R Tier 2 diesels rated at 1,000 BHP at 1,600 RPM each giving a cruising speed of 12 knots. Alaska Longline is an Alaska-based company in which the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA) is a partner and the newbuild will assist in harvesting APICDA's community development quota cod allocation.

The new boat's christening ceremony was attended by Alaska Governor Sean Parnell as well as Frank Foti, president and CEO of Vigor Industrial, who within days of the event announced that Alaska Ship & Drydock was being renamed Vigor Alaska. "It's about better serving our customers," Foti said of the change, which also saw the company's fabrication and shipbuilding subsidiary, US Fab, renamed Vigor Fab. "The new names not only simplify things for customers dealing with Vigor, they better reflect the reality that no matter which subsidiary customers are working with, they can count on Vigor's high level of craftsmanship and customer service," added Foti, who stressed that the changes apply "to the names only" and do not alter the operating structures of any of the subsidiaries.

Future Ferries
Vigor's move into Alaska, which took place last year, has been followed by Seattle's Elliott Bay Design Group, which has opened an office in Ketchikan not too far away from the shipyard. "This move enables us to better serve our Alaska clients and to establish new relationships and deepen existing ones," said Brian King, Elliott Bay's vice president of engineering. King noted that the firm has worked in one way or another on most of the Alaska Marine Highway System's (AMHS) ferry fleet over the years and is currently involved in AMHS's design process for the new Alaska-class ferries, a class which Vigor Alaska hopes to build.

The Alaska-class project has hit a number of roadblocks over the years, most having to do with funding, which has served to "shrink" the project from one large ship to two smaller ones while also reducing the amenities to be offered on board. As of this past summer the latest proposal calls for twin 280-foot-long ships that will sail 12-hour days on the Lynn Canal between Juneau, Haines and Skagway but will make no overnight trips.

The boats will have indoor seating for 300 passengers plus enclosed deck space for a mix of about 50 cars and trucks. Bow and stern doors will be fitted to give faster roll-on, roll-off loading and unloading and the provision of side doors will allow docking at more terminals. Food service will be limited to a small food court with vending machines with no kitchen.

The latest estimate to build the two ferries is $112.2 million, or about $5 million more than a previously estimated figure, but still below the $117 million allocated to date by the Alaska legislature. If the current design is accepted it is anticipated that construction could begin during the first half of next year with the vessels delivered in 2016.