Tesoro Alaska announced July 30 that it will position year round a tractor tug at the Nikiski dock on the west side of Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The dock serves tankers bringing crude oil to Tesoro’s Nikiski oil refinery, as well as tankers that ship out refinery products.
“We are making this investment for Tesoro Alaska because positioning a tractor tug at Nikiski on a year-round basis is an additional enhancement to our safety and environmental programs,” said Captain Tim Plummer, president of Tesoro Maritime. “It is a major new commitment to the community, our employees, the state, Coast Guard and marine vessels and barges, of the emphasis we place on safety and the environment.”
In February 2006 the tanker Seabulk Pride, under charter to Tesoro, ran aground on mud flats north of Nikiski after wind and tide-driven ice in the Cook Inlet had plucked the tanker from the dock at Nikiski, breaking all 16 mooring lines in the process. Although the tanker was refloated a day later without the significant spillage of any oil products or serious damage to the vessel, the rescue depended on the use of tugs from Seldovia and Anchorage, both several hours sailing time from the site of the grounding.
That incident heightened concerns over the need for a tug to be positioned at the Nikiski dock.
Winter supportIn January 2007 Tesoro contracted the Protector, a 5,500-horsepower tractor tug, operated by Crowley Marine, for emergency support at Nikiski during the winter. In addition to being stationed at Nikiski where it could provide immediate assistance for dock operations, this tug was much more powerful than tugs stationed at other ports around the Cook Inlet.
Tesoro has now decided to station a tug at Nikiski year round and is working with Crowley Marine to modify a new 6,700-horsepower, Z-drive tractor tug, the Vigilante, for the purpose. Modifications include ice strengthening.
Operated by Crowley Marine, the Vigilante will go into service at Nikiski in early November, with the Protector remaining on station until then. The new tug will primarily support Tesoro’s operations but will be available for other uses as scheduling allows, Tesoro said.
“We have effectively utilized the dedicated tractor tug and are pleased to continue this level of support to our Alaska operations,” said Steve Hansen, Kenai refinery manager.
Praise from RCACCook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, a watchdog group for shipping and the oil industry in the Cook Inlet, praised Tesoro’s action.
“Tesoro isn’t the only company that will benefit from having a tug in the area and they should be commended for implementing this navigational safeguard that is above and beyond regulatory compliance,” said Cook Inlet RCAC Executive Director Michael Munger. “Citizens have wanted this kind of protection for a long time and we’ve been diligent bringing about this change for them. Tugs play a role everywhere that oil tankers port in the U.S. and it’s time Cook Inlet saw similar safeguards.”