by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council, January 21, 2016
There are several reports regarding TOTE Maritime Alaska’s trailership NORTH STAR failure to depart Tacoma, Washington State, on Thursday, January 14, 2016, on a scheduled voyage to Anchorage, Alaska, where she was to arrive on Sunday, January 17, 2016.
The NORTH STAR is 20,800 DWT Roll-on/Roll-off (RO/RO) traileship built by General Dynamics NASSCO San Diego in 2003 with a capacity of up to 600 cargo trailers and 200 autos.
In a statement posted to their company website on Wednesday. January 20th , the shipowner TOTE said, “Repairs to the North Star are progressing well and are on schedule. As previously communicated we are planning a Wednesday, January 27th departure for voyage 16003. If repairs are completed before Wednesday, we will sail at the earliest possible time to limit customer impact.”
Although TOTE did not specify the nature of the problem or extent of repairs, as the NORTH STAR will be under repair for approximately two weeks and forego two voyages to Anchorage, the problem must be significant.
This is the second incident with the NORTH STAR in less than three months. The international maritime publication Splash24/7 reported on November 25, 2015, that the NORTH STAR experienced a main engine failure on Tuesday, November 24, 2016, en route from Anchorage to Tacoma, “A US-flagged ro-ro cargo ship owned by Tote Maritime Alaska, spent more than half a day adrift off Haida Gwaii near British Columbia. The MV North Star lost propulsive power when about 50 miles west of the islands on Tuesday morning. Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) sent vessels to assist and the ship fixed its problem and it was back under its own power by 3 am on Wednesday.”
Splash24/7 noted further, “Tote Maritime Alaska is a division of Tote Maritime, the same parent company as owners of the El Faro ro-ro ship that sank at a cost of 33 crew members’ lives during Hurricane Joaquin off the Bahamas last month. It had also lost propulsive power before going down.” The EL FARO was lost on October 1, 2015, en route from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Most of the local news coverage in Alaska was concerned with the limited supplies of certain groceries on the shelves of the State’s supermarkets as a result of the cancelling of two voyages of the NORTH STAR. There are usually four ship arrivals from the Puget Sound per week at Anchorage, two operated by TOTE and two by Matson Navigation Company Inc. The loss of two consecutive NORTH STAR voyages reduced container cargo capacity to Alaska by 25% for two weeks.
TOTE Inc. d.b.a. TOTE Maritime / TOTE Maritime Alaska / Tote Maritime Puerto Rico is part of the privately-held holding company Saltchuk Resources Inc. of Seattle, Washington. TOTE operates two domestic common carrier ocean container services one each from the U.S. mainland to Alaska and Puerto Rico. Saltchuk owns the major U.S. West Coast tug and barge operator, Foss Maritime Company, and its subsidiary Young Bros. Ltd., which is the sole interisland ocean freight service in Hawaii. Saltchuk also owns Alaska-based Northern Aviation Services, and its subsidiary Aloha Air Cargo, which provides interisland air freight service in Hawaii.
The most interesting coverage was presented by CBS affiliate KTVA Alaska Channel 11 in Anchorage which features a video covering the shortage of certain consumer goods on the shelves of Alaskan stores. Though the KTVA reporter calls the NORTH STAR a barge, which is incorrect.
A cargo ship that experienced mechanical troubles is responsible for some empty store shelves in Anchorage. Tote Maritime’s Grace Greene said the ship that was supposed to arrive in Anchorage on Sunday never made it further than the port in Tacoma, Wash.
Roughly 85 percent of all the goods that arrive in state come through the port of Anchorage. The port receives four major cargo shipments a week. But when even one is out of service, it can make a difference.
“If all routes of supply were cut off, we would have five to seven days worth of supplies within the state,” said Jeremy Zidek, with the State Division of Emergency Management.