TOTE Maritime Completes ‘Phase 1’ of Orca-class LNG Conversions

The MV North Star in dry dock at the Victoria Shipyard in British Columbia, Canada. Photo: TOTE Maritime Alaska

TOTE Maritime’s Alaska shipping division has completed the first of four conversion periods for its two Orca class vessels as part of the project to convert the diesel-powered ships to liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel.

TOTE Maritime’s North Star arrived in Anchorage on Sunday after completing her first voyage since the outfitting of two LNG fuel tanks at Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyard in British Columbia, Canada. In addition to the LNG tanks and accompanying infrastructure, the ship received critical engine updates necessary to utilize LNG as a fuel and underwent a standard regulatory dry-dock.

The completion of “Phase 1” marked a key milestone in the four-year process to convert the two Orca class vessels to LNG fuel. The two vessels, ‘North Star’ and ‘Midnight Sun’, are both currently powered by four MAN 58/64 engines running on ultra-low sulfur diesel marine gas oil. The conversion to LNG fuel will drastically reduce air emissions from the ships and will virtually eliminate sulfur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter while drastically reducing nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide.

Orca-class North Star
Archive photo shows the Orca class vessel MV North Star. Photo: TOTE

The two Orca class ships were originally constructed by NASSCO at its San Diego yard and were commissioned in 2003. Both vessels operate on Jones Act routes between Anchorage, Alaska and Tacoma, Washington, helping TOTE Maritime Alaska handle approximately one-third of goods transported between the lower 48 and Alaska.

TOTE has been working to convert the two Orca vessels for the past several years, however the project was delayed due to the loss of TOTE Maritime’s El Faro in October 2015. TOTE finally announced last November that it had signed a contract with MAN Diesel & Turbo for the retrofits.

Conversion work will be completed in early 2020 and early 2021, respectively.

Over the next four years, three more conversion periods will be required to finalize the transition to LNG. Each will take place in the winter to minimize the impact to operations.

“We are excited to be the first shipping company in the United States to undertake this important environmental effort” noted Mike Noone, President of TOTE Maritime Alaska. “And we are appreciative of our customers and partners who support our ongoing effort to innovate in ways that reflect our commitment to the environment and communities we serve.”