Shipper offers vessel to transport military hardware

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Anchorage-based Totem Ocean Trailer Express has volunteered one of its three ships to transport military hardware to the Persian Gulf.

The S.S. Northern Lights left the Port of Tacoma Sunday with a crew of 25 on its way to San Diego, where it will be loaded with military cargo destined for Kuwait City, said Bob Magee, TOTE's chief executive.

TOTE is one of two major shipping companies that move goods by sea to Alaska from the Lower 48. CSX Lines is the other.

The company offered the Northern Lights at the request of the Military Sealift Command, the arm of the Navy that provides ocean transportation of equipment, fuel, supplies and ammunition to sustain U.S. forces overseas.

Built in 1974, the Northern Lights is 791 feet long and can carry 12,000 metric tons of material, equivalent to more than 400 over-the-road trailers. It will be under military charter for 90 days, Magee said.

The Sealift Command operates a fleet of more than 120 non-combat, civilian-crewed ships around the world and has access to others that are kept in reduced operating status ready to be activated if needed. It also charters commercial ships when needed.

Magee said TOTE replied to the Sealift Command's request after learning from a ship broker that the outfit needed a ship capable of transporting military vehicles in a hurry.

''They urged us to respond even though we didn't know if we would have adequate backup capacity at that time,'' Magee said.

TOTE has three ships in its fleet, with two replacement ships under construction. The company expects to put one of the new ships into service in late April.

Ordinarily, TOTE only operates all three of its ships from late March through November, which will leave it one vessel short for about a month, during which time Magee said other Alaska carriers have agreed to pick up any slack.

''During this one-month gap, we are working diligently with the other carriers that serve Alaska so that they can act as a shock absorber for those few weeks,'' he said.

CSX Lines, soon to be renamed Horizon Lines under a new owner, and Alaska Marine Lines, which runs twice-weekly barge service between Seattle and Southcentral Alaska, both have agreed to provide help, Magee said.

''We are working with them to be sure that no freight gets left behind,'' said CSX Lines spokesman Eric Britten. ''Ultimately TOTE and CSX have the same customer, and that's the state of Alaska.''

TOTE's ship is one of a growing number of civilian ships and planes moving into a potential war zone as the U.S. continues to build up forces in the Persian Gulf for a possible invasion of Iraq.

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