Thursday, September 17, 2020

Maritime Logistics Specialist Faces Down Nature to Keep Essential Supplies Running

Fuel Must Get Through Despite Freezing Weather and Intemperate Seas
Shipping News Feature

US – Some of the work maritime and logistics specialists Crowley undertakes goes far beyond the normal practices of the industry. Now the Jacksonville headquartered maritime corporation has again overcome the vagaries of nature to complete one its regular contracts.

Crowley successfully lightered and delivered nearly four million gallons of military specification fuel to Eareckson Air Station on the Aleutian Island of Shemya in Alaska, tackling challenges that included Mother Nature’s destruction of the island’s shore side dock, the remote location and challenging weather and sea conditions.

Shemya’s radar and aircraft refuelling station, Eareckson Air Station, and the 180 service members, contractors and civilians who operate it rely on Crowley’s twice-yearly fuel deliveries to supply fuel required for incoming aircraft for the Defense Logistics Agency, US Coast Guard, Air Force and other state and federal agencies. With this season’s delivery, Crowley continued its nearly uninterrupted service record, which dates to 1956.

This year’s fuelling, while similar in outcome, differed in complexity and execution. The operation, carried out in partnership between Crowley’s government solutions and Alaska fuels team, utilised the company-owned tug Sea Prince and 52,000-barrel barge DBL-289 to execute multiple vessel-to-vessel lighterages, followed by multiple over the shore deliveries in lieu of a traditional alongside delivery. Sean Thomas, vice president, explains:

“The successful completion of the Shemya fuel delivery, despite the environmental and infrastructure challenges, is representative of the reliable, flexible solutions that Crowley consistently delivers to government and commercial energy customers. It’s a credit to our men and women at sea and ashore, who ensure safe and quality product can be delivered in the most difficult conditions in order for our service members to carry out their mission.”

Lightering operations to this island 1,200 miles from Anchorage are challenged by the ‘tyranny of distance’, converging at a location where tide and wave action, combined with drastic and sudden weather changes, create very narrow windows of opportunity for marine operations.

After coordinating government, contractor and Crowley personnel, afloat and ashore, for the most appropriate operational timing, Crowley successfully lightered fuel from a contracted articulated tug-barge (ATB) offshore, then delivered it over the shore and into Eareckson’s shore side tanks and trucks. Crowley Fuels' long-time Cargo Operations Manager, Anthony Morris said that even with a relatively calm three- or four-foot swell, it's very much a contact sport in a ‘very active’ sea.

Crowley’s crews have lightered fuel to Shemya for decades, but this latest delivery marks the end of an era of line-haul vessel delivery to the island. Starting in 2021, Crowley’s new, 55,000-barrel ATB Aurora/Qamun, soon to enter sea trials, will serve Crowley’s customers throughout western Alaska and the Arctic. The ATB is specifically designed to improve efficiency, manoeuvrability and operational capability in the challenging waters found surrounding Alaska.

Pending the award of a new contract, the vessel will assume service to Shemya as well, continuing Crowley’s commitment to the mission at this remote and austere location. Morris welcomes the change, saying:

“The crew of the ATB will be able to go into the harbour, turn, look at the weather and decide whether they can actually make it to the dock and exit without having to get alongside. It gives us a bigger window of opportunity, improves our operational efficiency and most importantly, further improves upon the already safe methods developed by Crowley.”

That window of opportunity extends beyond the island of Shemya to the many remote villages of Western Alaska that also depend on Crowley’s capabilities and people who know how to get fuel over the shore in some of the most austere environments on earth.