Foss Maritime constructing three new tugs for Arctic work


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At right, Jason Robb holds a tag line to swing the lower portion of the house around and set it on top of the hull during construction of the new Arctic Class tug being built by Foss Maritime at its Rainier Shipyard in Oregon. The company is building three of the vessels designed specifically for Arctic work, with the first to be complete in March 2015.

Photos/Courtesy/Foss Maritime

Work is underway at an Oregon shipyard to prepare for increased Arctic activity.

Foss Maritime is building three new Arctic tugs at its Rainier Shipyard, each named after the three sisters that own 77 percent of parent company Saltchuk, for work in the far north.

The first — the Michele Marie — is expected to be finished in March 2015.

The 132-foot ship is slated to deliver critical petroleum infrastructure components to Arctic locations in Alaska and internationally, said Tucker Tillman, Foss Marine’s project sales/controls manager.

Her sister ships should be ready in 2016 and 2017.

Foss Maritime is a marine transportation company owned by the same parent company, Saltchuk, as several other Alaska transportation players — Carlile Transportation Systems, Cook Inlet Tug and Barge, Delta Western, Inlet Petroleum, Totem Ocean Trailer Express, and Northern Air Cargo.

Those companies, along with Foss, have a long history in Alaska, and the new Arctic tugs represent part of the company’s new commitment to Alaska’s future said Foss Maritime’s Tim Beyer, vice president for project sales in the Pacific.

The new vessels will have reinforced hulls intended to allow them to sail safely through ice, and a fuel capacity of about 122,000 gallons, which should enable them to operate 30 days before refueling, Tillman said. The tugs will also have heated decks to help prevent ice buildup.

The new Arctic tug will work with newer shallow draft vessels, also constructed in the past several years at the Oregon shipyard — the most recent is the Emmett Foss— on much of the northern work.

The Emmett is a 76-foot tug that has a flat bottom and smaller propellers and rudders, enabling it to work in shallower water at most of the potential Arctic work sites.

The tug has been used throughout Alaska waters, including up at Point Thomson on the North Slope. Most of the places for Arctic deliveries are shallow

Once the Michele Marie is completed, it can bring materials most of the way north, with the Emmett taking over for the final, shallow-water portion of the move.

The new Arctic vessels have been in development for the past few years. Initially, Beyer said the company began simply looking at building new tugs as ocean class tugs at least five years ago. Eventually, they looked at the best fit for opportunities for growth, and determined that a tug that could operate in the Arctic would be the most beneficial.

“If they can operate in that environment, they can operate anywhere in the world,” Beyer said.

Increased oil and gas activity opportunities in the Chukchi Sea and internationally helped make the case for the new ships, too.

“We think the future looks good,” Beyer said.

This summer, the Emmett has been busy working in Cook Inlet, where it made beach landings in both Nikiski on the east side and Beluga on the west side.

Beyer said the Foss Rainier shipyard has done work in both aluminum and steel fabrication previously.

The new ships will help meet a push in the oil and gas industry for vessels that meet high safety standards and are less than 30 years old.

The Arctic tugs will have the American Bureau of Shipping’s Safety of Life At Sea, or SOLAS, designation.

That’s the “top standard for operating these vessels,” Beyer said.

It is a marker for the way the tug is built and outfitted to ABS and U.S. Coast Guard strict standards, and requires regular inspections.

The engines and auxiliaries in the new tugs will be the newest model available, efficient, and will have low emissions, Beyer said.

After the Arctic class tugs are built, Foss may continue building some general high quality ocean tugs. Those will likely be outfitted in accordance to their intended future deployments, possible somewhere between the current regular fleet and the Arctic fleet, Beyer said. The exact specifications for tugs built in the future will depend on what the company’s work plans are, and what older vessels need to be replaced.

Beyer said this may also include building another shallow draft tug similar to the Emmett.

“It’s a wonderful boat,” he said, noting that it’s useful in Alaska rivers, as well as shallow ocean sites, and “very effective” for making landings in remote parts of Alaska.

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