ANCHORAGE - The Midnight Sun, one of two newly built Totem Ocean Trailer Express cargo ships, made its first port call Saturday to Anchorage.
TOTE, one of two major shipping companies that move goods by sea to Alaska from the Lower 48, spent $310 million for the Midnight Sun and her sister ship, the MV North Star, which is to begin service in August.
Built by General Dynamics' National Steel & Shipbuilding Co. in San Diego, the "Orca-class" vessels are 840 feet long and 118 feet wide. That's 50 feet longer and 13 feet wider than the three "Ponce-class" ships they are replacing.
TOTE has been carrying freight between Washington and Alaska since 1975 and operates "roll-on/roll-off" ships. Cargo is driven onto and off the ships in the same trailers used for land transport.
Horizon Lines, the state's other major domestic shipping company, loads and unloads containers on its ships using cranes. They are transported by land on trailers.
The added width of TOTE's new Orca-class ships enables them to more easily handle trailers as long as 53 feet, a choice the company wanted to be able to offer its customers, said John Parrott, TOTE's Alaska general manager.
The ships have been designed specifically to meet the challenges of Alaska waters.
Designed and constructed for an expected life span of 40 years, the ships operate twin 20-foot-diameter propellers that can achieve cruising speeds of roughly 28 miles an hour, even in heavy weather.
The ships have a reinforced ice band on the hull as a well as a strengthened propeller and rudder system.
The vessels have double-walled fuel tanks and hulls designed to reduce the risk of spills. The ships run on a diesel-electric power plant, reducing emissions.
Together, the Midnight Sun and the North Star will provide enough carrying capacity to meet TOTE's needs at least until 2005, Parrott said.
Orca-class ships can carry 600 trailers, each 40 feet in length, and 220 automobiles. That compares with the 380 trailers and 120 automobiles on the Ponce-class vessels