Foss Maritime: From Rowboats to Fuel Cells
One small launch of a rental rowboat in 1889 was the not only the beginning of Foss Maritime, it was the first step toward a quantum leap in marine transport services.
When Norwegian immigrant Thea Foss started renting rowboats from her floating home in Tacoma, she could never have imagined that her small business venture would grow to transport giant oil platforms across the Pacific and join forces with an atomic research laboratory to develop new fuels for ship propulsion.
The company that evolved from that first rowboat, Foss Maritime Company, has grown into one of the world's leading tug and barge operations, offers Harbor services in all major ports along the US west coast, Alaska and Hawaii, designs and builds the next generation of vessels at two full-service shipyards, and transports a variety of oversized and sensitive cargo to remote ports around the globe, working in some of the world's harshest environments.
The quantum leap is not yet finished, the best is yet to come, and Foss has managed to do it all while remaining true to its core values of "Always Safe, Always Ready."
"We have great and strong traditions here at Foss, and the hard work and creative thinking of our employees has propelled us to where we are today," said Paul Stevens, President and CEO. "And the future looks just as bright to us. We are looking forward to the next 125 years with both enthusiasm and excitement."
Foss has built a strong reputation for innovative solutions, environmental stewardship and an outstanding safety record. The company has risen to the challenge of improving the industry through inspired and advanced technology with continued progress toward its goals of experiencing zero injuries, leaving zero trace on the environment and meeting 100 percent of our customer expectations.
"Foss' formula for doing business is simple," said Stevens. "With the support of our parent company, Saltchuk, we seek out and respond to opportunities to bring value to our customers, and work diligently to provide our marine transportation services more efficiently and safely than anyone else in the market."
Harbor services is the part of the Foss Maritime empire that is the most directly related to Thea Foss' original rowboat rental service.
"Since our founding in 1889, Foss Maritime Company has been in the Harbor Service business," said Scott Merritt, Senior Vice President, Harbor Services and Regional Towing. "From the very first day and the very first rowboat rental we have built our company on identifying the customer's needs and providing services that meet their expectations. "What has changed over time is the complexity of our customers' needs and the level of technology, experience and knowledge we must employ to meet their ever-growing expectations."
Foss Harbor Services' evolution ranges from rowboats, steam launches and single-screw Miki-Miki tugs to the tractor tugs of today and beyond, and the delivery of world-class ship assist and tanker escort services. Foss operates more than 30 tractor tugs, both Voith Schneider Propulsion Cycloidal Tractors (VSP) and Azimuthing Stern Drive Tractors (ASD) and performs more than 1,500 tanker escorts and more than 20,000 ship assists every year.
Harbor Services operates a fleet of seven double-hull petroleum barges on the west coast. "Our bunker/petroleum transportation and shore side personnel, management and crews are committed to meeting and exceeding the expectations of both our customers and regulatory agencies," said Merritt. "Each year we move more than 18 million barrels of oil safely and without incident."
Foss also supports customers at petroleum terminals in Richmond, El Segundo and at the offshore Pacific Area Lightering (PAL) zone.
"Our dedicated crews' services include operating line tugs, launches, crew boats and a vapor-processing barge," said Merritt. "We also provide large fender deliveries and rigging support for tankers calling PAL. Our operations allow our customers to operate safely and efficiently 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
Harbor Services' scope of services range from providing emergency response and rescue towing services, delivery of cargoes to the US military at remote island bases in Southern California, providing marine construction support services on bridge and infrastructure projects, and line-handling services to ships calling on Puget Sound, launch services and barge mooring services.
"We have done all this while improving the quality of our services and the safety of our operations," said Merritt.
Foss embarked on an operational excellence program in 2005 to move the company's safety, quality and environmental performance to the next level – with the goal of matching the performance of its most sophisticated international customers.
Foss passed its renewal audit, maintaining the company's ISO 9001, ISO 14001 (Environmental), ABS SQE (Safety, Quality and Environmental) and ABS ISM (International Safety Management) certification processes. These programs emphasize a commitment to a continuous improvement process and innovation as the blueprint to achieving goals.
"No one relishes the administrative tasks associated with any management system," said Merritt. "But we have found that when properly executed, the processes provide a voice to every level of the organization, allowing their observations and knowledge of our services to be translated into real and sustainable improvement.
"We have shown continued progress toward our goals of zero injuries, zero trace operations and meeting100 percent of our customer expectations. All of this also leads to meeting our shareholders' expectations for safety, honesty, ethical dealings, and best industry operations."
Safety is paramount at Foss, it is part of the company's DNA. If you happen to wander into one of Foss' shipyards without wearing a hardhat and safety glasses, a Foss employee will politely direct you to a location where they will be provided for you. And when you board a Foss tug, a crewmember hands you a life vest and hardhat the moment your feet land on deck.
Incident rates have plummeted as a result. On Foss tugs and in the shipyards, crews undertake "job-safety analyses" every time they start a new project. The company also has a sophisticated Safety Management System, and a protocol for thorough accident investigations that produce "lessons learned" to help prevent future occurrences.
Environmental protection is also an ingrained part of Foss' culture. The company's pioneering hybrid-powered tugs, led by the introduction of the Carolyn Dorothy in 2009, have brought reduced emissions and fuel consumption compared to conventionally-powered vessels. Foss currently operates the largest fleet of double-hulled bunkering barges in California.
Foss' safety and environmental record has not gone unnoticed. In 2013 the Chamber of Shipping of America recognized 81 Foss vessels for operating a minimum of two years without a lost-time injury and 80 Foss vessels for environmental performance. They averaged more than 10 years per vessel without a reportable environmental incident.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach gave Foss Maritime a high environmental honor for advancing hybrid tug technology that reduces greenhouse gasses, airborne particulates and pollution in all its forms. Foss was chosen for a San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan Air Quality Award (CAAP) in late July.
"Foss is committed to hybrid technology," said Paul Stevens, the company's president and CEO. "Our company's goal is constant improvement of our hybrid technology – we want to retrofit more tugs going forward."
Foss developed the innovative XeroPoint hybrid retrofit system in partnership with Aspin Kemp and Associates of Owen Bay, Ontario.
"Federal regulators are saying that the hybrid retrofit system is an effective choice for any US Harbor tug wanting to meet America's highest environmental standards," said Stevens. "Our proving ground was here, in Long Beach and Los Angeles, in partnership with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the ports that have the country's most stringent clean air standards."
"What stands out about Foss' commitment to clean hybrid technology is that it was never driven by regulatory requirement," said Richard Cameron, acting managing director of environmental affairs and planning, Port of Long Beach. "It developed its hybrid technology as part of a corporate commitment to environmental stewardship. Foss is now the clear leader."
Going forward, expansion of the petroleum and minerals sector in Alaska bodes well for the company. Foss has been involved in a number of projects for major oil companies in the past few years, and three Arctic-class tugs currently under construction at the Rainier Shipyard will only enhance Foss' arctic capabilities.
Foss' Seattle Shipyard, traditionally involved in maintenance and repair work, expanded into new-vessel construction in early 2014, further diversifying the company's business.
A new barge has also been ordered in anticipation of an expanding industry.
Foss announced this February that it would take a step towards a quantum leap in maritime technology by working with the Sandia National Laboratory to build a portable, self-contained hydrogen fuel cell for testing by Foss' Hawaiian subsidiary, Young Brothers Ltd.
The prototype can be installed on barges, provide power to refrigerated containers on the dock or be transported to wherever it is needed to generate electricity.
"The hydrogen fuel cell is exciting new technology," said Paul Stevens. "It underscores once again our company's willingness to innovate and find solutions to decrease emissions from our operations. The entire maritime industry stands to benefit from the work we'll be doing with Sandia's hydrogen researchers."
Last year Sandia scientists completed a study confirming hydrogen fuel cells' ability to provide additional power to docked or anchored ships. The unit will be designed and built to comply with US classification society and regulatory requirements.
"No one has ever built this kind of custom unit for this purpose," said Sandia's Joe Pratt, who led the previous study and serves as project manager. The unit, he said, will fit inside a 20-foot shipping container and consists of four 30-kilowatt fuel cells, a hydrogen storage system and power conversion equipment.
The completed system will be deployed by Young Brothers, Ltd., which ships goods throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The unit is undergoing detailed engineering and design through mid-2014 and, after construction and an additional month of training for Young Brothers operators, will be operational in a six-month test phase in early 2015.
Foss' leadership is preparing for the company's quantum leap into the future – and starting by unifying its brand.
"It has been 10 years since I took the helm of Saltchuk's tug-barge group," said Foss President and CEO Paul Stevens. "This group was made up of seven separate branded companies, each with its own unique culture. Although parts of this structure had advantages, it was not always the most efficient.
"Today our market is facing many changes, which requires a renewed focus and cohesive culture. Saltchuk leadership and I believe the benefits of marketing our business under one brand is our best long term strategy," he said. "Since 2004 we have, with Saltchuk's full support, invested over $400 million in our businesses, replacing our equipment, updating our systems and adding to our portfolio of services.
"By merging under the Foss Maritime brand we have completed an evolutionary process that began when Saltchuk first purchased Foss Maritime and then added other companies to the tug and barge portfolio over the past years.
"Foss and its sister tug-barge companies in Hawaii and Alaska were consolidated under the Foss Maritime brand in 2013 . Together, under this single name with a combined tradition of safety and innovation, Foss is in a strong position to continue serving our customers while meeting the expectations of our shareholders."