Every year, roughly 1.2 million tons of ore move out of the Red Dog Mine and south to market. Millions of tons of cargo pass through the Port of Anchorage. At the Port of Valdez-the southern terminus of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline-supertankers handle more than 1.5 million barrels of crude oil annually.
All of those endeavors depend on the same crucial element: Alaska's marine transportation companies, powered by tugs. In a state where vast distances separate communities and businesses and other methods of transportation can prove prohibitively expensive or impossible, tugs and barges provide key support for major Alaska industries like mining, oil, and gas production.
Whether they're assisting ships in Cook Inlet or transporting fuel through shallow water along the coast of Western Alaska, tugs and barges are vital pieces in a multibillion-dollar puzzle.
For Foss Maritime, which provides tug and barge services for Red Dog Mine and celebrated its 125th anniversary this year, it's about finding solutions for the transportation needs of Alaska businesses. Because of Red Dog's Arctic location, more than eighty miles north of Kotzebue, the window of opportunity for barge transport is brief. Gary Faber, president of the Seattle-based maritime transport company, says Foss began its mine transport work May 30 this year and will work continuously until freezing conditions end the shipping season, usually around October.
Transporting the ore involves using specially designed self-loading barges, and Faber says Foss developed the world's first roadstead loading of dry bulk cargo in order to make the most of the short shipping season. Despite the limited window, the tug and barge work at Red Dog Mine contributes to a major economic boost for the region.
The mine itself provides 550 full-time jobs, with NANA shareholders making up the majority of employees. Faber says Foss also prioritizes local hire.
"It's a major business," he says.
It's not the only major business dependent on reliable tugs and barges.
Faber says Foss is looking forward toward a developing oil and gas industry. Like mining, the industry often moves by tug and barge.
From front-end engineering support for North Slope producers to resupply, Faber says his company sees growing opportunities doing business with the industry that provides more than a third of Alaska wage and salary jobs.
"We kind of cover the gamut," he says. "We think we have a good niche."
Cook Inlet Tug & Barge
In Cook Inlet, a maritime company with deep Alaska roots has also carved out a niche.
While Cook Inlet Tug & Barge was acquired by Foss Marine...