Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Demand for Maritime Transportation to Alaska Remains Stable

Trade with Alaska and Hawaii


Western Towboat Co., a family owned business in Seattle, tows a rail barge for Lynden Inc.'s Alaska Marine Lines from Seattle to Whittier every week with containerized cargo above the Alaska Railroad cars, a plan that provides for maximum shipping efficiency. Photo by Russell Shrewsbury courtesy of Western Towboat Co.

Container ships, tugs and barges hauling myriad tons of cargo between Washington and Alaska remain a constant presence in the economies of both states in 2016, with no signs of slowing despite fiscal challenges Alaska is currently facing.

Major maritime transportation firms serving the 49th state continue to transport the bulk of retail items, from food and clothing to electronics, vehicles and supplies needed by Alaska's fishing, oil and gas and mining industries.

For the seafood industry, in fact, 2016 proved to be particularly busy, said David Rosenzweig, vice president of marketing and media for Lynden.

"We had another big seafood year this last summer with record amounts of fresh and frozen," Rosenzweig said. While the salmon came in late to Bristol Bay, it provided a record year as far as seafood shipping to Seattle, other domestic points, and international destinations, he said.

Lynden's Alaska Marine Lines had a lot of additional equipment this year that was purchased to help with transporting seafood, but there are always logistical challenges because of the need to have the right equipment in the right place at the right time. "It's hard to predict, so we have to be ready, and luckily we have the ability to move the equipment around," Rosenzweig said.

While demand from companies involved in the oil industry isn't quite as busy as usual, business has been steady with firms involved in construction, retail and mining, and there is still a lot of activity on Alaska's North Slope, he said. "Our general volumes have not been bad at all. We've been pretty lucky."

Alaska Marine Lines also provides cargo services throughout Southeast Alaska and is going more into communities in western Alaska, as well as Whittier and Anchorage, and Lynden Air Cargo, with its fleet of L-382 Hercules aircraft, transports everything from groceries to cars within Alaska through scheduled weekly service. More about Lynden's complete Alaska and worldwide services is online at

TOTE Maritime Alaska, which has operated in the Jones Act trade since 1975, has twice weekly shipping routes between Tacoma and Anchorage, with a broad range of cargo, from food, cars and household goods to construction supplies, said company spokesman Tyler Edgar.

Beginning in November 2016, TOTE Maritime will begin the process of converting its two Alaska ships, the M/V North Star, and M/V Midnight Sun, to be powered by natural gas. The Midnight Sun will be converted this year, and the North Star in 2017, Edgar said.

"We made the decision to convert to natural gas for environmental reasons. We realized that LNG was the most environmentally friendly option," he said.

These Orca class vessels will be the third and fourth cargo ships in the United States, second only to TOTE Maritime's Marlin class ships serving Puerto Rico, to run on LNG, he said. This investment will help TOTE to lower vessel emissions while exceeding the Environmental Protection agency's new air emission standards as outlined in the North American Emissions Control Area.

Business has been stable too for Matson Inc. a principal carrier of containerized cargo and automobiles between the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. Matson acquired the Alaska service formerly operated by Horizon Lines in late May 2015.

The Matson Kodiak, a 20,965-ton containership, came out of drydock in late January and just recently went into service, with a route taking the vessel from Tacoma to Anchorage, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor, said Matson's Keoni Wagner. While the Matson Kodiak was drydocked for work in China, a reserve vessel from the company operated in its place, he said.

Matson's business at its Kodiak terminal was enhanced last August with the delivery of a new 65-ton gantry crane that replaced one half its size.

Matson also offers truck, rail and barge service connections throughout central Alaska, Kodiak and the Aleutian Chain.

Crowley Maritime has been providing marine, petroleum distribution and energy support services throughout Alaska since 1953, from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska, along the coast, and to some remote inland areas, including villages along the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers. Crowley continues to be a leader in the Alaska fuel industry, offering transportation, distribution and sales of petroleum products to more than 280 communities, notes Randy Breaux, manager of business development for the company in Alaska. The company has storage capacity of more than 39 million gallons of fuel.

Crowley has been providing transportation services into the arctic since 1969 through sealifts into Prudhoe Bay and petroleum transportation for re-supply of remote villages and government facilities. The company's range of services include project management, heavy lift barge transportation, ocean towing, engineering, liquefied natural gas services, naval architecture, vessel design and construction management, project concept studies and emergency response.

At the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, Crowley also provides tanker escort and docking services in Valdez Harbor and Prince William Sound for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company's Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, and tanker assist and escort services at Tesoro Alaska's Nikiski refinery in Cook Inlet.

Boyer Towing, based in Ketchikan, was incorporated when Alaska became a state in 1959, but the family has been engaged in the towing business since the 1930s.

Boyer, with additional offices in Seattle, operates tugs and barges on the Pacific/British Columbia and Alaska coasts. Boyer also owns barge/freight terminals, docks and more in Ketchikan, Thorne Bay and Ward Cove, Alaska, as well as Seattle, plus secondary docks/moorings at other locations in Southeast Alaska and Washington.

The Boyer fleet includes 13 tug boats for inland and coastwise service, plus 18 inland or ocean barges with the capability for deck cargo, self-loading ocean log barge, railroad cars and loading over beaches with ramp barges.

Alaska owned Samson Tug and Barge, is headquartered in Sitka, with additional offices in Cordova, Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, Seward and Valdez.

Samson tug and Barge has an extensive history in Alaska, dating back to a horse and cart operation that delivered cargo to mining camps. The company today provides bi-weekly barge service to Central and Western Alaska from Seattle, with stops including Cordova, Valdez, Seward, Kodiak, King Coverand Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. Samson also calls on Adak, Larsen Bay and Alitak during peak fishing seasons.

Samson also has weekly sailings from Seattle to Metlakatla, Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, including Craig, Klawock and Thorne Bay, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau and Sitka. The company posts its upcoming sailing scheduled online at

Foss Maritime Co., with domestic Harbor and transportation services from Washington State to Alaska and Hawaii, also provides service across the Pacific Rim, Europe, South America and around the globe in many areas. Details on the company's maritime, technical and engineering, Harbor and liner barge services are posted online at

For the Washington-Alaska route, a company spokespersons said, Foss offers tug and barge service on a contract basis.

The history of Foss in Alaska dates back to barging of spruce lumber from Wrangell to Tacoma in 1922. In the ensuing decades Foss became engaged in contracts with the oil and gas and mining industries.

Foss also transports the world's largest railcar barge, with scheduled service from Prince Rupert, British Columbia to Whittier, Alaska, for the Canadian National Railroad's Aquatrain. Foss tugs, the Justine Foss and the Barbara Foss, tow the 100- by 400-foot barge on a 12-day cycle, 30 times a year, where it links with the Alaska Railroad for daily service to Anchorage and Fairbanks, carrying tank cars, flat cars and box cars of cargo, principally from Canada.

The route is the shortest water route to Alaska by 600 miles, compared to southern ports. The Canadian National Railroad has offered this year-round service since 1962, and Foss assumed operations in 1993, with the purchase of Portland-based Brix Maritime.

Foss also has, since 1990, transported tens of millions of tons of concentrated ore from the Red Dog zinc mine in Northwest Alaska to Seattle. Foss has developed customized self-unloading barges to transfer the ore to bulk carriers from the shallow-draft port. These barges are brought north to the mine in late June or early July, remaining there until the weather permits for loading and then depart in October before the port completely freezes over.

SeaTac Marine Barge, with a marine terminal at the Duwamish Waterway in Seattle, also engages in the Washington-Alaska maritime trade, with 10 sailings a year, from January through October, hauling building supplies for Spenard Builders Supply facilities in Alaska. "They are our main customer, and our barges and tugs are usually from Island Tug and Barge in Seattle," said company spokesman Eric Christianson. Western Towboat also offers ocean and Harbor towing, ship assist, container and transportation services, with its fleet of 1000-5000 HP Z-Drive and conventional tugs, and five 6,000-10,000 ton deck barges ready to move bulk aggregate or general deck cargo.

Family owned Western Towboat Co., also in Seattle, has been operating tugs and barges from Puget Sound to the Aleutian Islands, and also several areas of Southeast Alaska, said Russ Shrewsbury, one of several owners in the Shrewsbury family. The company has been in business since 1948. Back in the 1960s, Shrewsbury said, his grandfather, Robert Shrewsbury, was hauling barges to canneries in Southeast Alaska and coming back with pallets of canned salmon.

"Our main business is hauling containerized cargo to Southeast and Western Alaska," he said. Western Towboat makes seven stops in five days, in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Juneau, Sitka, Haines, Skagway and Hawk Inlet, a mine, and we also go to the Greens Creek gold mine, he said.

Tugs from Western Towboat have been hauling freight on Alaska Marine Line barges since the early 1980s.

A Western Towboat Co. tug on a return trip from Shemya Air Base, in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, backhauling a Lynden Inc. barge. Photo by Russell Shrewsbury courtesy of Western Towboat Co.

The company tows rail barge AML every week, from Seattle to Whittier, Alaska, with containers on top of the rail cars, to maximize efficiency of bringing cargo and rail cars on the same barge.

Western Towboat hauls bulk aggregate products on its barges, mostly to Southeast and western Alaska, anywhere where there is a need for sand, gravel and breakwater rock. The company also hauls all mining materials for the year on a Lynden barge to the Red Dog mine north of Kotzebue in Northwest Alaska, and does an annual summer resupply trip to the military base at Shemya in the Aleutian Chain, again hauling a Lynden barge with its tugs.

Scheduled summer runs for Western Towboat also include this year taking a drill rig to Prudhoe Bay, on Alaska's North Slope, with its own tug and barge.

"With the price of fuel coming down, people are starting to look at moving things that they had wanted to move for a while," Shrewsbury said.


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