Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Alaska's First Lady Christens First Ferry Built in Ketchikan

Vessel Profile: Tazlina


October 1, 2018

The first of two new ferries for the Alaska Highway System, the M/V Tazlina, seen here on sea trials just prior to her delivery to the state by Vigor Alaska. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

When Alaska's First Lady, Donna Walker, christened the 280-foot by 67-foot M/V Tazlina in Ketchikan on August 11, it was the culmination of a design process that occupied more than a decade, and a triumph for the Vigor Shipyard in Ketchikan which began construction in January 2015, and is close to completion of a sister ship, the M/V Hubbard. These two Alaska-class vessels were designed by Elliot Bay Design Group (EBDG) based in Seattle and are classed ABS Ro/Ro. They can load 53 standard vehicles via a bow door and ramp and a stern door, and seat 300 people.

"I am so proud to christen the M/V Tazlina and welcome her into our fleet," said Walker. "Creating more opportunities to connect Alaskans at this critical juncture is good for our economy, for our visitors, and most importantly, for the Alaskans who rely on the Marine Highway as part of their daily lives." The new ferry will join the Alaska Marine Highway fleet on the Northern Lynn Canal route in May 2019, bringing more reliable service to the region. It is longer, wider, deeper, and heavier than the ship it will replace, the 50-year old M/V LeConte, and will be able to navigate in stronger winds and heavier seas.

The Tazlina has a full-load displacement of 3,000 long tons, and a predicted speed of 16 knots at 85 percent MCR (maximum continuous rating) of the two EMD 12 cylinder 3,000-hp medium-speed engines. They turn Rolls Royce controllable-pitch propellers for maximum efficiency, with Rolls Royce Promas integrated rudders. There are two main and one emergency generator, all are Caterpillar Model C-18 455kW to 500kW at 60 Hz. Each hull's 23 modules were pre-fabricated and fully assembled in Vigor's Ketchikan production facility, which boasts floating drydocks of up to 10,000 tons lift capacity.

The project was scheduled over an extended time span to keep the contract cost down to $103 million for both vessels – a significant reduction over the original plan to replace the aging 350 to 400-foot mainline ocean-going ferries with similar designs. Preliminary design work began in 2006, and had reached the pre-production phase by 2012, when the revised cost estimate was found to be $150-165 million and seriously over budget. The project was analyzed and alternatives investigated by Coastwise Engineering of Anchorage. They recommended the AMHS consider a pair of smaller day boats.

EBDG was asked to produce a new specification for a design that would eliminate the need for overnight accommodation for crews and some passenger amenities. Preliminary analysis of total capital and operating costs over the life of the new vessels indicated that two smaller ferries could yield significant cost savings. In addition, these smaller vessels could be built in-state in the 70,000 square foot assembly hall of the Ketchikan Shipyard, adjacent to the AMHS ferry base and service dock.

The state had purchased the Shipyard in 1996 for $80 million, as part of the governor's economic policy to encourage new industry and support Alaska's large marine sector. The Ketchikan Shipyard was purchased by Vigor Industrial in March 2012, who launched the first large fishing vessel built in the state – the 136-foot factory longliner F/V arctic Prowler – in 2013. Another positive development was EBDG opening an office in Ketchikan. Also, Vigor had begun in-state construction of four 144-car Olympic class vessels in Seattle for Washington State Ferries; they successfully completed the contract with the delivery of the fourth WSF ferry this year.

This record encouraged the AMHS to explore the strategy of building the ferries in-state, which was approved by the legislature. In 2014, a sole-source, no-bid contract for two Alaska-class ferries was signed, based on a procurement process of Vigor as the "construction manager/general contractor," and on negotiations for a "guaranteed maximum price." This was the first time any vessel in the United States has been built under that procurement process. "CMGC has never been used in a marine application... but we've got a lot of experience with CMGC building roads and buildings," commented Captain John Falvey, general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Under this system, the state chose to forfeit more than $100 million in potential federal aid in order to build the two ships entirely within Alaska. The federal government typically pays the majority of the cost of infrastructure projects, but requires that the bidding is open to any qualified American Shipyard. With the price of oil high, Governor Sean Parnell rejected the federal aid in favor of developing a local shipbuilding industry.

The ferries are a vital part of Alaska's infrastructure year-round with a boost of tourism in the summer months when the Inside Passage is a popular destination for its wilderness coastline of fjords, mountains and glaciers. The ferries even allow camping on the top deck, but it's winter that really dominated the design process. The Gulf of Alaska generates a steady supply of heavy rain and snowstorms that inundate SE Alaska with more than 100 inches of rain annually. Lynn Canal is about 90 miles long, and is one of the deepest and longest fjords in the world. In the winter daylight lasts only six hours, winter winds often blow at 40 miles per hour or more, and temperatures can drop to -5 degrees F.

"Some of the big challenges that they deal with are the heavy seas, high winds and freezing spray, where the spray coming off of the bow tends to freeze on contact," said Vigor's Adam Beck. The ferry system must also consider motion and its effect on what it calls "Traveler Comfort." Scott Miller, a consultant with The McDowell Group said that the hull form was tested in the wave tank at Force Technology in Denmark. "The goal was to make the vessel capable of handling the forecasted vehicle and passenger loads, and reduce the Motion Sickness Incidences that are found on the smaller vessels."

This enables EBDG to estimate what percentage of the passengers would feel ill over a two-hour period in the most exposed area. These tests were run on several models to determine the overall length and used as a comparison to other ships in our fleet," Miller continued. The bow flare as well as the bulbous bow shape were carefully developed to minimize slamming forces in heavy seas. The passenger spaces were arranged to provide more space in the midship area of the vessel for passengers to gather during rough seas.

Production engineering was provided by Glosten naval architects, who released a new version of the 3D model nominally every week, using specialist marine-construction software. This minimized potential problems on the shop floor while increasing efficiencies and coordination in the yard, and preventing delays. Each module is being built as a complete unit, with pipes, electric cable raceways, and other essential systems already installed. These are completed prior to the module being rotated upright, lifted into place and attached to the ship. Pipes, and raceways in previously attached sections must mate up exactly with pipes and raceways in future sections.

Alaska First Lady Donna Walker christens the new ferry M/V Tazlina in a ceremony at Vigor's Ketchikan facility. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The two halves of the second vessel in the Alaska class, the M/V Hubbard, are being joined together so that the ship will be structurally complete before the winter. To stay on schedule for launching in April 2019, the engine room module was built in vigor's Vancouver, Washington fabrication shop, said a Vigor spokesman, and module No. 19 (steering gear) and module No. 20 (the stern) may also be built in Washington. The contract allows up to 13 percent of a ship to be built outside Alaska.

All of Alaska's ferries are named for glaciers, and the Tazlina is no exception. Seventh grader Melea Voran, from Port Alsworth Tanalian School, chose the ferry's name through an essay contest. It means "swift river" in Ahtna Athabascan. The project has supported more than 100 year-round jobs since 2015. Future shipbuilding opportunities for the Ketchikan Shipyard include more ferries for AMHS, replacement of the Bering Sea ground fishing fleet, and ice-strengthened vessels for the Northwest Passage.

This story has been edited from its original print version.


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