Juneau glimpses the giant

More than 200 invitees take a tour of BP's $250 million Alaskan Explorer

Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Luke Bradley, 24, made an unusual return to Southeast Alaska this week.

He came home on an oil tanker.

A crew member on BP's new $250 million Alaskan Explorer oil tanker, the former seafood worker and Haines resident floated into Juneau with his 24 fellow shipmates on Monday.

Bradley worked six years on Lynn Canal fish tenders until the pay soured. With help from a state retraining program, he's landed a dependable $2,200 monthly salary and paid vacations.

"It's a lot nicer," said Bradley, the only Alaskan on the Alaskan Explorer. "The money is guaranteed."

The ship officers and crew showed off their oil tanker to more than 200 invited visitors on Tuesday, including legislators, their staff, the governor's office, regulators and the media.

The rest of Juneau just ogled.

"That thing is huge," said David Pryce, a waiter for Doc Waters Restaurant at nearby Merchant's Wharf.

A Juneau resident for just 22 days, Pryce said he's seen nine countries and plenty of cruise ships but it's still "cool" to see an oil tanker docked next door.

The ship's visit is also a good reminder for Juneau residents of their city's reliance on the oil industry, Mayor Bruce Botelho said.

"It is the transport of oil on tankers such as the Explorer that fund the bulk of our government and the services that are provided," Botelho said. Oil provides about 80 percent of the state's revenue.

At about 940 feet long and 164 feet wide, the ship is the first supertanker to visit Juneau, but not the longest vessel.

Some of the cruise ships that dock downtown clear 1,000 feet in length, Botelho said.

The 1.3 million-barrel tanker was to start this morning on its first trip to Valdez to pick up its cargo of North Slope oil.

The ship had some extra time and could afford to take the brief detour to Juneau, ship officers said Tuesday.

Typically, BP's oil tankers stay at least 50 miles off Alaska's coast.

BP officials said the trip was an opportunity for the company to gain greater visibility with Alaskans. The ship is one of four new double-hulled vessels that will serve as BP's "Alaska Class" tankers.

ConocoPhillips has made a similar investment in double-hulled tankers, which reduce the potential for oil spills, said Ed Thompson, director of BP's crisis management unit.

BP's ships - faster and more efficient than their previous vessels - are a $1.1 billion investment.

"By far, this is (BP's) largest capital investment for a few years," Thompson said.

Sailing through the Inside Passage was smooth, said ship Capt. John Moore.

The tanker would not have been able to navigate to Juneau if it was weighted with its full load of oil, Thompson said.

The ship travels at 16 knots when it is carrying ballast and 15 knots when loaded with oil.

Getting in and out of Gastineau Channel isn't difficult - not with rudders that turn 65 degrees, a 360 degree view from the bridge, and the assistance of four tugboats, officers said.

Plus, "The handling is magnificent," Moore said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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