Totem Ocean: Built for Alaska
On September 10, 1975, the S/S Great Land completed Totem Ocean's inaugural voyage across the Gulf of Alaska, establishing a new, critical link between the ports of Tacoma and Anchorage. This year, on the 40th anniversary of that maiden voyage, one of two Orca Class vessels, the M/V Midnight Sun, will head North – like thousands of other Totem Ocean voyages to date, carrying cargo and supplies destined for communities across Alaska. As employees and their families celebrate this maritime milestone, Totem Ocean is leading the Alaska trade through safety, innovation and a team dedicated to excellence.
Totem Ocean began serving Alaska as construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was underway – at the time, one of the world's largest, privately funded construction projects. More than 70,000 workers helped build the 800-mile oil pipeline, many of whom would settle in Alaska after completion of project in 1977.
With Alaska crude oil flowing to market through the new pipeline, Alaska's economy skyrocketed. Totem Ocean continued serving the Alaska trade with its two Ponce Class vessels S/S Great Land and S/S Westward. A third Ponce Class ship, S/S Northern Lights, began serving Alaska in 1993. The first two Ponce Class vessels are now retired, but the S/S Northern Lights is currently operated by sister company Sea Star Line, serving the Puerto Rico trade under the name El Faro ("lighthouse" in Spanish).
In 2003, Totem Ocean built and launched two new Orca Class vessels into service. The M/V Midnight Sun and M/V North Star were custom-built for Alaska's extreme conditions. The new ships solidified Totem Ocean's commitment to the Alaska trade, each vessel capable of carrying 225 vehicles and a trailer capacity of 600 Forty-foot Equivalent Units (FEU). Both vessels continue to provide fast, reliable, twice-weekly service between Tacoma and Anchorage.
40 Years of Dedication
From the beginning, Totem Ocean was well positioned to meet the needs of a rapidly growing Alaska economy. But overcoming the extreme challenges of providing regular, reliable service across the Gulf of Alaska took vision, investment and dedication. Totem Ocean employees gave their all – and still do – to make sure every voyage is safe and successful. Whether they are onboard or behind the scenes, teamwork has been a key driver to Totem Ocean's success.
"The dedication of our crews and employees is inspiring," said John
Parrott, Totem Ocean President. "They do whatever it takes to safely get the job done because they're all-in, working as a team. It's a tradition that has made Totem Ocean the leader it is today."
A few current Totem Ocean employees have served since the beginning, witnessing the growth and evolution of the company and its markets. One thing that goes unchanged is their passion and commitment to excellence.
Renata Benett currently serves as a Market Research Manager at the Federal Way office and remembers the inaugural voyage 40 years ago. "Our competitors said we would fail because we didn't have the experience to succeed," said Renata. "Every time I see a ship coming in I get just as excited as the first voyage. Look at us now!"
Project Logistics Manager Bill King said, "Totem Ocean started as a family business and that feeling hasn't changed even though we've grown. I'm proud to call Totem Ocean my family after 39 years."
Innovation Charts the Course
Much has changed in the shipping industry since Totem Ocean's journey began. Innovation has always been part of the company's formula for success, encouraging a culture that discouraged the status quo and challenged teams to seek out better ways of meeting commitments to customers, communities and the environment. The decision and investment to convert both Orca Class vessels to natural gas engines is an historical innovation that demonstrates Totem Ocean's long-standing dedication protecting the environment.
Despite having the most efficient and environmentally friendly ships in the Jones Act trade, the International Maritime Organization designated the coastlines of North America as an Emission Control Area in 2010, imposing new emissions standards on the shipping industry. Rather than doing the bare minimum to meet the new standards, Totem Ocean saw this as an opportunity to lead the industry by investing in liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine technology for both Orca Class ships.
The Orca Class LNG Conversion project began in 2010 with research, modeling and planning. Totem Ocean has assembled a world-class team for the project, including key partners like Puget Sound Energy of Seattle who will serve as the local LNG supplier, and Wartsila of Finland, who will provide the new LNG engines, generators and LNG storage tanks. Conrad Shipyard in Louisiana will build the LNG bunker barge to keep the ships fueled.
"LNG is the future of environmental stewardship in shipping," said Michael Noone, Chief Operating Officer at Totem Ocean. "Totem Ocean is proud to raise the standard in our industry and the Alaska trade."
The M/V Midnight Sun will be the first Orca vessel to convert to LNG in November 2015. The conversion is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2016. The M/V North Star will begin its conversion in November 2016 with completion expected by second quarter 2017.
Safety at the Helm
As Totem Ocean prepares for the future of shipping between Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, we remain committed to safety in all that we do. Nothing is more important than making sure that we keep our employees and those around us safe at all times whether at sea or on land. Our safety culture is a pillar of Totem Ocean's success over the last 40 years and a key to our future.
"I've grown up with Totem Ocean and after 38 years with the company I still get excited when I see our ships approaching the terminal," said Patty Luden, Safety, Loss Prevention and Quality Director. "Safety is at the forefront of everything we do. I've been with the company 38 years and Totem Ocean has always put the well being of its employees over profitability. It's one reason we're such a success. We love coming to work."
Committed to Care
The employees of Totem Ocean are committed to supporting organizations and individuals that improve the communities we serve. From small donations to local non-profits to being a major donor of the healthcare systems and hospitals in Washington and Alaska, we support those committed to local families, including our employees. It's all part of our long-term commitment to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska – the Last Frontier.
Next 40 Years
Even as we take a moment to celebrate the company's past, it is clear that Totem Ocean remains focused on the future. Totem Ocean is more committed than ever to being Alaska's premier ocean carrier for generations to come. This can be seen in our more than $100 million investment in converting our fleet to LNG, along with our community giving program that continues to invest in the long-term well-being of those we serve.
But we are also growing. Totem Ocean, as part of the TOTE family of companies (www.toteinc.com) will soon be known as TOTE Maritime. Totem Ocean and its sister company Sea Star Line, which serves the island of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, will be unifying under one brand to highlight shared commitments to on-time, reliable deliveries our customers depend on from coast to coast.
In addition, Totem Ocean will continue to ensure the needs of all of Alaska are met. As the arctic opens up and new routes become available, we will work with communities throughout the region to identify emerging opportunities to better serve the state. This may include specialized operations in new locations or new updated equipment to meet the ever-changing needs of the state.
With change comes our commitment to Totem Ocean's core business: serving Alaska on time, every time no matter the weather, time of year or hardships faced. At the end of the day, our dedication, professionalism, safety, innovation and investing in employees and communities will continue to move TOTE Maritime – and Alaska – forward.