Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tacoma Port Has Busiest Container Month
in 9 Years

By Mark Edward Nero

The 210,149 TEUs that crossed Tacoma docks last month marked the port’s busiest month since September 2005, when it handled 216,430 TEUs, according to newly-released data.

On July 22, the Port of Tacoma announced that it handled its one-millionth container of 2014 during June, and that during the same month, container volumes improved 22 percent year-over-year.

The port says last month’s TEU volumes continued to reflect the surge in imports as shippers moved inventory before the West Coast labor contract expired June 30. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association continue to work under the previous contract while negotiating a new one.

Through the first half of 2014, Tacoma handled 1,011,337 TEUs, a nine percent year-to-date increase. Additionally, full containerized imports grew 11 percent year to date to 382,264 TEUs, while exports improved seven percent to 279,841 TEUs.

Domestic volumes were up four percent to 226,947 TEUs, according to data.

Also during the first six months of the year: grain exports continued to rebound from last year’s historic low volumes, and were up 54 percent to 2,105,029 short tons; break bulk cargo grew 12 percent to 118,921 short tons; and auto imports improved 33 percent to 107,223 units.

More information about the port’s monthly container volumes during 2014 can be seen at

DoD Awards Contracts to BAE, Pacific Ship Repair

By Mark Edward Nero

The US Department of Defense said July 15 that it has awarded BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair a $15.1 million cost-plus-award-fee contract for the USS New Orleans (LPD 18). The contract includes the planning and execution of depot-level maintenance, alterations and modifications to update and improve the ship’s military and technical capabilities.

The Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego is the contracting agency, and the work, which is to be performed in San Diego, is expected to be completed by December 2014.

The USS New Orleans, an amphibious transport dock, was built from 2002-2004 by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems and was commissioned in 2007.

It is homeported at Naval Base San Diego.

The DOD also says that San Diego-based Pacific Ship Repair and Fabrication has been awarded a $9 million contract for the repair and modernization of the USS Shoup, (DDG 86).

Work performed, according to the DoD, may include ship alterations, blasting, painting, and surface preparation for complete or touch preservation of the underwater hull, freeboard, struts, rudders, running gear, ground tackle and sea chest, as well as various interior tanks.

The DOD says that the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Center Facility’s Northwest Regional Maintenance Center in Bremerton, Washington, is the contracting agency and that the repair and modernization work, which will be performed at Pacific Ship Repair’s Everett, Washington location, is expected to be complete by the end of 2014.

The USS Shoup, which was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding from 1998-2000, was commissioned in 2002 and is homeported at Naval Station Everett in Everett, Washington.

Crowley Subsidiary Salvages Costa Concordia

By Mark Edward Nero

Crowley Maritime Corp. subsidiary Titan Salvage and partner Micoperi say that the Costa Concordia – the Concordia class cruise ship that wrecked along shores of Giglio Island, Italy, in January 2012 – has been refloated and has begun its final voyage to an assigned berth in Port of Genoa Voltri, Italy, about 200 miles away.

Crowley says the project is among the largest and one of the most technically complex maritime salvage jobs ever completed.

Moving at an average speed of two knots, the slow, precise tow of the disabled cruise ship is being made by a convoy comprised of at least 10 other vessels. There are two tugs, with a combined 24,000 horsepower and 275 tons of bollard pull, at the ship’s bow towing the hull. Another two auxiliary tugs are positioned aft. The other vessels in the convoy, including a pontoon with a 200-ton crane, are carrying personnel and equipment.

The convoy is anticipated to arrive in Genoa on Sat., July 26, about mid-day pending the condition of weather and vessel traffic.

Titan Salvage’s Nick Sloane and Rich Habib, the company’s senior salvage master and salvage director, respectively, are onboard the Costa Concordia to provide around-the-clock monitoring of the vessel’s list, ballasting and speed. The sailing route will take the vessels south between the island of Giglio and Giannutri before heading west-southwest to a point south of the island of Montecristo. The convoy is then expected to head west-northwest to a position south of the island called Scoglio d’Africa before crossing the Ligurian Sea to the Port of Genoa Voltri. “This is the latest achievement in a very long series of detailed wreck removal phases,” Titan Vice President Chris Peterson said. “We have patiently and eagerly planned for this move.”

Once the tow arrives in Genoa, it will be berthed, thus successfully ending the historic salvage project. The salvage team will assist with the transfer of the vessel to the Genoa consortium that will perform the dismantling.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Port of Tacoma Planning for Marine Habitat

By Mark Edward Nero

The Port of Tacoma Commission on July 17 voted to approve a plan that would create an aquatic fish and bird nursery at the same time it renovates one of its terminals.

During its most recent meeting, the Board agreed to spend $595,000 to develop what’s being called the Saltchuk Aquatic Mitigation Site, which would be built in phases from dredged materials coming from waste materials from the Terminal 4 renovation project.

The nursery would house salmon and shorebirds at the mouth of the Hylebos Waterway, along Marine View Drive.

In 2005, the Port of Tacoma bought 17 acres in the area, which was once home to a neighborhood of former fisherman’s cottages. Over the past nine years, the port has been negotiating with homeowners to buy the homes so that they can be demolished to make way for the aquatic habitat project.

Saltchuk would be constructed in phases over time from beneficial use of suitable dredged materials obtained from various future dredging or shoreline cutback projects, according to port CEO John Wolfe. The site would become part of the port’s future umbrella mitigation bank, and credits from that bank would be used to compensate for future unavoidable habitat impacts from port projects.

Although an expenditure of $595,000 was approved, the total estimated cost of the preliminary design stage for the project is $745,000, according to the port. The remainder of the funding is expected to be requested during the port’s 2015 budget process. The Port Commission is expected to be updated on the project in March 2015.

Port of Hueneme CEO Elected AAPA Chair

By Mark Edward Nero

The American Association of Port Authorities’ Board of Directors has elected Port of Hueneme CEO Kristin Decas as its incoming chair for AAPA’s 2014-2015 activity year. Decas takes office at the conclusion of the association’s annual convention in Houston later this year.

Decas will succeed Tay Yoshitani, CEO of the Port of Seattle, whose tenure as AAPA chair expires in November. Yoshitani, who announced in January that he would retire from the port in June, recently agreed to stay on until at least the end of September.

Decas took over as the Port of Hueneme’s CEO in February 2012 and previously spent five years as CEO and port director for the Port of New Bedford, Mass. In that position, she helped orchestrate a fiscal turnaround for the port and played a role in the development of a new terminal to support the nation’s first offshore wind energy project.

The Port of New Bedford also realized growth in its cruise and recreational boating activity during her tenure. “Kristin is a proven leader and will be a great asset to AAPA, and to the port industry,” AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle said.

Decas was recently awarded a high-profile appointment by the US Department of Transportation to both the National Freight Advisory Committee (NFAC) and the US Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council (MTSNAC).

“I feel very privileged to serve as AAPA’s next chairman of the board and am thankful for the opportunity,” Decas said in a statement. “I very much look forward to working with all of my maritime colleagues on important and timely initiatives, including the reauthorization of the nation’s transportation act, advancement of maritime policy, infrastructure and economic development initiatives, and outreach and communication strategies.”

The AAPA, which is headquartered outside Washington, DC, is a trade group representing about 160 Western Hemisphere ports. It advances its members’ interests through public advocacy and professional development.

The job of chairman is an uncompensated position.

Seattle Monthly Container Volumes Down
27 Percent

By Mark Edward Nero

Port of Seattle terminals saw a total of 104,832 TEUs in June 2014, a drop of more than 27 percent from the same month last year, according to newly-released port data.

The Port of Seattle has only had one month so far this year where container volumes exceeded those of the corresponding month in 2013. In May, the port saw more than 145,000 TEUs, about 12 percent more than May 2013.

Of the nearly 105,000 containers that moved through Seattle last month, the majority were full containers being imported from overseas, 31,483 TEUs, followed by full containers being exported to foreign countries, 29,811 TEUs.

During the same month in 2013, about 144,000 TEUs moved through the Port of Seattle, including 50,396 full imports from overseas and 38,395 full exports.

For the year to date, Seattle terminals have seen 718,879 TEUs, which is a 9.4 percent drop from the 793,000 containers that were seen during the same six-month period last year.

The port first saw its numbers dip on a consistent basis when the Grand Alliance consortium of shippers began calling at the Port of Tacoma in July of 2012.

Even with the addition of two new customers – United Arab Shipping Co. and Pacific International Line came to the port in 2013 – volumes still have yet to grow back to mid-2012 levels.

Nichols Brothers Celebrates 50 Years

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

The first boat produced by the Nichols family was a tugboat.

George "Mark" Nichols was an orchardist in Yakima, Washington in the 1930s. His 10-acre apple farm failed during the great depression, and in 1939 he moved his family South to the city of Hood River, Oregon, on the Columbia River, to build a tugboat with his brother, Luke.

Welding was one of many skills one acquired as a farmer, and Mark put that talent to good use, as he and his son Frank built the first Nichols Boatworks tugboat, the M/V Whale. That first boat established the commercial viability of a boatbuilding venture, and the brothers opened their Nichols Boat Works for business. There isn't much information on the Whale, but it was steel.

"Only steel," Current Nichols Bros. president Matt Nichols says. "Steel and later aluminum, of course. We never built fiberglass or wood boats."

From 1939 to 1964, The Nichols Boat Works built a series of steel tugs and fishing boats for the busy Columbia River. The brothers built tugboats for companies such as Shaver Transportation, Joe Bernert Towing Co., Brix Maritime, Brusco Tug and Barge, Smith Towing and Hendren Towboat Co.

The yard also produced steel fishing boats, a couple of pleasure craft and some passenger vessels, as well as several ferries including the ferry Wahkiakum, for Wahkiakum County, which runs between Cathlamet, Washington and Westport, Oregon.

In 1962, Mark's son, Frank Wilson Nichols, who had grown up building boats with his father and uncle, brought his wife and eleven children to Seattle to start his own business. He built his first boat, a steel fishing boat named Jenel, in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. The 42-foot by 16.5-foot F/V Jenel, built for fisherman Jack Downing, was powered by a GM 6-71 diesel. Frank's son, Matt, was hired as a deckhand on the new boat, and fished in Alaska for four summers while he was in high school. On delivery of the Jenel in 1964, Frank Nichols bought a machine shop on a piece of land on Holmes Harbor, in Freeland Washington on Whidbey Island.

"We all lived in that little shack for a while," Matt says. The company has always placed a value on its history and modest beginnings. For years, even after the yard had established itself as one of the top shipyards in the country, the old machine shop was a part of the operation. When the building was finally demolished in 1992 to make way for expansion of the yard, the front wall was kept and incorporated into the fence that surrounds the 14-acre facility.

The yard is actually separated from the water by a two-lane country road, Shoreview drive, which the yard's boats have to cross to reach the gently sloping launch site on the other side. After ten years of launching boats by rolling them down the gently sloping beach on specially-built cradles, Frank developed a hydraulically driven heavy mover, with crawler tracks, allowing the vessels to be driven into the bay, where they would float out of the cradles as the tide came in. The system allowed for the construction and launch of larger vessels, and worked so well that in 1991 it was updated to carry 2,500 tons.

In 1972, Frank's sons, Matt and his brother, Archie, took over the family business, along with brothers Mike, Nate, Luke, and Willie, with all the brothers working in the yard. Matt and Archie ran the business together until 1996, when Archie left to pursue other interests, and Matt bought out Archie's share in the company. One of their brothers, Luke, still runs the yard's machine shop, and Archie still consults on the occasional project.

"People are very important at Nichols," Matt Nichols says. "Our reputation doesn't come just from the quality of the vessels we build, but the people who build them." Nichols currently employs 252 shipyard craftsmen, which is considered full employment for the yard, although Matt Nichols notes that some projects have required hiring extra workers. "We were at about 375 crew at one point when we were building the Empress of the North and the X-Craft," he says, noting that the crew is trained in the trades with private classroom instruction every Tuesday and Thursday night. The company pays all the training costs, and is so successful that many other companies try to hire the highly trained Nichols employees away.

The training is certified by the State of Washington to rigorous standards, and the skilled aluminum craftsmen participate in continuing education classes to perfect their trades. Long-time Nichols craftsmen earn overtime to train the new employees. Currently, all of his employees live on Whidbey Island.

Matt Nichols' sons make up the latest generation of Nichols boatbuilders. Bryan Nichols, who managed sales for Nichols Bros for many years, now serves as Director of Sales at Vigor Fab. Justin Nichols, who earned a degree in industrial engineering, built boats on his own before hiring on at Nichols Bros. as production manager. Younger brother, George Nichols, works at the yard as a draftsman with 10 years of experience.

"It was awesome growing up with the yard," Bryan Nichols says. "As kids we spent a lot of time painting cranes, sweeping the yard – we had a lot of work." He says along the way they learned a lot about boats. "You end up learning so much about equipment, about machinery, and you don't even realize what you're learning at the time."

Bryan enjoyed meeting the customers and watching his father, Matt, sell boatbuilding and repair projects. "I learned negotiation and sales tactics from the master," he jokes.

He and his older brother, Justin, worked under multiple people at the yard each summer. "In the winter I would work a few hours after school, cleaning up the machine shop or something, and in the summer I was always working in the yard as an apprentice to someone," he says.

"In college I started working nights with my dad helping with estimates and proposals, and I would go to school during the day. Pretty soon it developed that I was working for him during the day and going to school at night."

Bryan says he's fortunate to love what he does. "Being able to stay in the industry has been a real treat," he says. "People get into this industry accidentally and kind of fall in love with it."

The fishing boats built by Nichols Bros. have included gillnetters, seiners, trawlers and crabbers, while the tugboats produced by the yard have run from standard line-haul boats to shallow-draft vessels for service in shallow Alaskan rivers, articulated tug and barge units, and modern tractor tugs for ship assist and escort work.

"Nichols is a great bunch of guys that work hard," says Gunnar Ildhuso, Jr., President of Ildhuso Fisheries and owner of the combination crab, pollock and whiting boat F/V Gun-Mar. "It seems like everybody on the Island works for them."

Ildhuso had the Gun-Mar built at Nichols Bros. in 1981. The 137-foot boat had 3,400 square feet of deck space and a hold capacity of 11,500 cubic feet. The 1,700-HP boat was capable of 12 knots, fully loaded.

In 1993, Ildhuso brought the boat back to Nichols for a two six-foot sponsons and a 40-foot mid-body extension. "Nichols had the mid-body built and ready for us when we finished the season," Ildhuso says. The modifications increased the deck size to 6,000 square feet and the hold capacity to 23,200 cubic feet, while maintaining a fully laden speed of 12 knots from the same 1,700 HP.

"We got the boat into the yard, and they did the work and it was ready in time for the next season," Ildhuso says. "I think it's a real well-run yard."

Matt Nichols says the yard performs quite a bit of maintenance and modification work. "A lot of our customers come back to the yard where the boat was built. We'd actually like to do more repair," he says. "With our yard at Freeland and our dock at Langley, we can do topside repairs and dockside work as well as haul-out projects."

One of the hallmarks of the company is diversity. Along with fishing boats and tugboats, Nichols Bros. has built a series of high-speed aluminum passenger vessels.

"We're operating three Nichols boats," says Greg Bombard, President of Long beach, California-based Catalina Express.

"We've got one newbuild – a great boat, the Jet Cat Express, and we've bought two other vessels through them," he says. "One that they had out on charter, and another one that came in as a trade-in."

Bombard worked closely with Nichols to develop vessels that would transport passengers in comfort across the channel to Catalina Island. The Nichols-built boats feature amenities like full ride control systems for stability, modern navigational systems, airline-style cabin seating, panoramic viewing windows, and on-deck seating.

"We've always worked well with Nichols Bros." Bombard says, "and those vessels have been great additions to our fleet."

Nichols Bros. has built paddlewheel riverboats, some military craft, a fireboat, research vessels, a pilot boat and patrol craft.

Nichols also builds great tour boats, according to Don Wicklund, the Port Captain for Seattle's Argosy Cruises. Argosy operates a fleet of nine tour boats around Seattle and Puget Sound, including several Nichols Bros.-built boats.

"We love Nichols," he says. Wicklund was a captain for Argosy in 1976 when the company was approached by Archie and Matt Nichols. "Nichols Bros. had an opening, and they wanted to keep the crew working," Wicklund says. "They offered us a great price, so we asked them to build us a boat like the Goodtime," he says. "They built the Goodtime II in two and a half months." The 250-passenger vessel has since seen continuous service along the Seattle waterfront. It was followed by several other Nichols boats, including the Goodtime III and Spirit of Alderbrook, and most recently the Royal Argosy, built in 1999 as a luxury dinner cruise boat. The 180-foot Royal Argosy was designed to evoke the era of the Seattle "mosquito fleet" of steamships that dotted Puget Sound at the end of the 19th century. The dinner cruise boat can accommodate up to 800 passengers, or seat 336 for a unique dining experience provided by professional chefs working in three full-service galley/kitchens.

"They're a great boatbuilder," Wicklund says, noting that the yard's attention to detail reduces maintenance costs and makes for a well-built boat.

"One of the things they do has to do with the skip welds," he says. A skip weld is an intermittent weld, used to reduce distortion in welded plate. "Where they skipped the weld, they caulk all the seams," he says. "That keeps water out and reduces or eliminates rusting in those seams."

Wicklund appreciates that the yard is close to Seattle, and the crew is easy to work with, but mostly, he says, "They take it to the next step – they do that 'one more thing' to make a boat that lasts many more years."

A recently completed Nichols boat is the 100-foot ship-assist tug M/V Delta Audrey, currently undergoing sea trials at the company's Langley facility before being delivered to San Francisco's Bay Delta Navigation. The boat is actually the sixth such vessel the company has had built by Nichols Bros., and Bay Delta's Operations Manager Peter Zwart, who has overseen construction of the whole series, is very happy with this latest boat.

"The boat looks great," he says. "I must say, this might be the best boat of the six."

Zwart says he's very happy to work with Nichols Bros. "This island has a bunch of excellent crafts people," he says. "For example, the welding is excellent – they do a really nice job, and they take pride in their work."

Zwart says he has built relationships and friendships with the crew at the yard, and that much of the quality comes from the management. "The price is fair – you get what you pay for. Matt Nichols is very approachable and easy to deal with," he says.

In 2007, Nichols Bros. was acquired by an investment firm and re-incorporated as Ice Floe, LLC. dba Nichols Bros. Boatbuilders. Matt Nichols remains the company's CEO, and in 2011 Gavin Higgins was appointed COO of Nichols Brothers, tasked with the oversight of the engineering, production, project management, purchasing and facilities departments.

Over the course of the yard's history, Nichols Bros. has reached many significant milestones. The construction of a high-speed aluminum catamaran for the US Navy's Office of Naval Research demonstrated the yard's technical expertise. Known as the X-Craft (Littoral Surface Craft-Experimental), the 262-foot by 72-foot Sea Fighter (FSF 1) is powered by a combined diesel or gas turbine (CODOG) engine configuration consisting of two MTU 595 diesel engines and two General Electric LM2500 gas turbines. The diesels can power the ship for long-range cruising, while the gas turbines allow the X-Craft to reach 55 knots in calm seas and more than 40 knots in sea state four. Ramps allow for roll-on/roll-off loading of equipment, and the flight deck can accommodate two helicopters.

Another unique vessel shows the other side of Nichols Bros. The 360-foot paddlewheel cruise boat Empress of the North showcases the high level of finish the yard puts into its vessels. The 235-passenger Empress was built in 2003, and is currently taking passengers on 3- to 7-day trips on the Columbia River. CEO Matt Nichols recently returned from a cruise on the elegant vessel.

"I'd forgotten what a nice boat she is," he says. "I was invited to speak about her at the beginning of the trip, and for the rest of the cruise people were complimenting me on the boat.

That sentiment is echoed by commercial customer Peter Zwart, of Bay Delta Navigation, who says he really likes the way the yard builds his boats. "We'll go with Nichols on the next boat, too," he says. That's a nice recommendation to kick off the next 50 years.

Gates Moved to New Panama Canal Locks

By Mark Edward Nero

The Panama Canal expansion has reached an important milestone with the transfer of the first gates to the new locks complex in the Atlantic side, the Panama Canal Authority revealed July 21.

“This is a very important operation because it involved the first movement of the gates from the special dock where they were unloaded to the lower chamber of the new locks,” Canal Authority Administrator Jorge L. Quijano explained.

A key component of the expansion is construction of two new ship lock system complexes – one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides. The current lock system lifts ships of up to 85 feet to the main elevation of the Panama Canal and down again.

Quijano said the recent gate transfer process was carried out following safety measures to ensure that the more than 3,000-ton steel structures could be moved to the dry lock chambers using a pavement ramp specially built for the purpose. Eight of the 16 rolling gates to be used for the new locks are already in Panama. The remaining eight are expected to arrive in two separate shipments from a manufacturing site in Italy.

This week, the other gates are expected to be moved from the temporary unloading dock to the dry lock chambers to be able to use the area for the arrival of the remaining lock gates.

Among the project’s components are the excavations of new access channels, the widening of existing channels and the deepening of navigation channels. The expansion is expected to allow post-Panamax ships to travel through the canal en route to East Coast terminals, something that could negatively affect West Coast vessel traffic.

The Panama Canal Expansion Program is about 77 percent complete, according to the Canal Authority.