Bowhead Transport Company puts the resourcefulness and adaptability of its Iñupiat heritage into motion. Lots of motion.
The Bowhead group of companies is named for the Bowhead baleen whales that spend their entire lives in and around Arctic waters. The whale, Balaena Mysticetus, has been declared a federally endangered species, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Inupiaq people have hunted the whales for centuries, so the endangered status continues to allow limited aboriginal subsistence whaling.
The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, representing 10 whaling villages in northwestern Alaska, manages the hunt. Last year, Alaska Natives harvested 42 bowhead whales. Whale hunting practices and rituals are deeply rooted in their culture, including keeping catches within sustainable limits to preserve the bowhead tradition for future generations.
“Iñupiat history demonstrates a uniquely collective ability to adapt, survive and prosper,” said Dana Kimble, Marketing Manager, “and we consider this a good business model.”
Bowhead Transport Company (BTC) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC), the Alaska Native village corporation for Barrow. UIC and its family of companies provide a wide range of services in Alaska, the Lower 48 and Hawaii. Transportation, Construction, Engineering, Oilfield Services, Technical and Professional Services and Communications are some of the corporation’s comprehensive services. Bowhead is a Minority Business Enterprise, organized as a Vessel Operating Common Carrier.
Incorporated in the State of Alaska, the company’s main office is located in Seattle. Bowhead’s Alaska-Washington connection is ironclad. “Bowhead offers more than goods and services, we link people,” said Kimble. “We provide the opportunity to learn the history and explore the differences in traditions and cultures, and connect the villages of the North Slope to the communities of Washington State.”
BTC has been in the common carriage barge business for 26 years, servicing the coastal villages of the North Slope Borough on the Arctic Slope of Alaska. “We have extensive experience transporting building and construction materials, heavy equipment and container loads of annual stores for the village services,” said Kimble. “And, it’s all landed on the beach and delivered to our customers.”
BTC’s primary goal of has been to provide, at a fair price, the best service possible to these village communities. Year-in, year-out Bowhead transports 5-7,000 tons of cargo to the Arctic, around the Arctic and back to the Lower 48.”
The company lists its core competencies as: marine cargo transportation, barge and lighterage services, vessel leasing and operations and logistics support. “Bowhead also has experience mobilizing and demobilizing remote site construction and clean-up jobs,” added Kimble.
Once the ice breaks up North — normally about July — Bowhead’s Transport gets busy with three intense months of summer shipping from Seattle to the villages, many of which are not accessible by land.
In addition to servicing the villages, Bowhead’s core clients are the North Slope Borough and the oil industry (Pioneer Oil, ENI Petroleum, Shell Oil, Conoco Phillips, FEX LP / Talisman Energy). “Much of our North Slope business is project-based, depending on what construction project is going on at the time,” said Kimble. “For instance, we helped deliver the goods for Barrow’s new football field and the hospital.”
Remote site fleetBowhead provides a full complement of marine transportation solutions including common carriage, contract and charter services. Customized services include staging in Seattle, critical path loading, receiving and materials tracking.
Remote site service is Bowhead Transport’s specialty,” “Not many companies have the determination or wherewithal to go where we go” said Kimble. Our specialized, custom built vessels can reach remote sites in western and arctic Alaska and through our relationships with various carriers in the Lower 48, we have the capacity to do just about anything.”
Bowhead has access to vessels up to 4000 horsepower and barges to 330 feet allowing the company to complete projects anywhere within the Pacific Rim and Alaska. “With this advantage,” said Kimble, “we are able to be flexible in operations and give our customers the benefit of a very competitive rate structure.”
Lighterage and beach operationsThe Bowhead fleet includes a full complement of cargo handling equipment for unloading, beach operations and inter-village transfers. The double-duty line haul barges are equipped with a 125-ton Manitowoc crane and Hyster 650 forklift for cargo handling aboard, and on and off the line haul.
To further facilitate its lighterage operations, Bowhead built two shallow draft landing craft — the Sam Taalak in 1997 and the Greta Akpik in 1998 — both named in honor of Native elders. Combined with all terrain, articulating forklift loaders capable of handling up to 35,000 pounds, the lighterage/beach operations take the cargo off the line haul barge for the final half-mile to the beach and delivery to customers. “Utilizing these shallow draft landing craft,” said Kimble, “Bowhead can service locations unnavigable by deeper draft tow boats and barges. They’ve made us even more adaptable.”
Years of experience have gone into modification of the cargo fit-for-purpose handling equipment, according to Bowhead.
BTC can provide:
• Heavy lift capacity, articulated, all terrain forklifts
• Bulldozers for ramp and site preparation
• Tractor trailer combos
• 20- and 40-foot containers
• Special trailers for modular housing
• Mobile cranes
“Our seasoned crew are experts in their field, each with more than 15 years experience in cargo handling in the Arctic and nearly every other village on the coast of Alaska,” said Kimble.
Alaska Eskimo whalers use handheld weapons and skin boats propelled by paddles to pursue bowheads for the spring hunt and motorized boats in the fall, demonstrating their ability to adapt. Similarly, Bowhead Transport adjusts its services and equipment according to need. “We take pride in our ability to complete virtually any job,” said Kimble, “even under the most adverse conditions.”