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Crowley Maritime 125th Anniversary

64 years of history in Alaska


Two of Crowley’s high-deck strength barges, 455-3 and Marty J, towed by tugs Warrior and Commander, transported processing and utility modules and other smaller structural components more than 8,000 miles from Gulf Island Fabricators in Houma, Louisiana, to Point Oliktok in Kuparuk. The modules and components, each weighing nearly 4,000 tons, will support Eni’s development of the Nikaitchuq oil field.

Photo courtesy of Crowley


Contributing to the growth of Alaska over the past sixty-four years, this year Crowley Maritime celebrates its 125th year of successful operations worldwide.

Starting with a Whitehall Rowboat purchased by Thomas Crowley in San Francisco, the company was founded in 1892 as a family- and employee-owned marine service and solution company that now employs 5,300 people worldwide with headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida.

Founder Thomas Crowley is the grandfather of current Chairman, President, and CEO Thomas B. Crowley Jr., who was elected to his leadership. This change marked only the second time in one hundred years that the leadership of the company changed.

Company officials acknowledge that many of the Alaska challenges met by Crowley and its support teams have added to the company’s innovative approaches to provide transportation and support for improving the state’s infrastructure.

“What we have learned in Alaska we have used globally; what we have learned globally we have used in Alaska,” reflects Bob Cox, vice president of Crowley Petroleum Distribution, Inc. “We are innovators; we engineer solutions to meet the challenges.”

Crowley has embraced a team approach, which has led to the company’s portfolio of success, experience, and profitability.

“At Crowley, it’s not what you know, it’s what you share,” says Bruce Harland, vice president, Crowley Maritime. “Known for quality, reliability, with a reputation of environmentally sound services in Alaska, Crowley’s best assets are its people.”


Multiple Lines of Industry Support

In addition to its Alaska fuel distribution centers the company operates six lines of business that span from Latin America to Alaska offering diversified transportation, petroleum distribution, and contract and technical services.

The company also offers services as a third-party logistics provider with supply chain management and offers materials and shipment tracking technology.

Energy support services are offered with shore-based services, ocean towing, marine engineering, and offshore construction support. Alaska energy support services also offers specialized cargo transport with CATCO units for transportation across roadless tundra areas of the Arctic and remote crude oil storage, all with environmental safety and quality assurance.


Alaska Beginnings

Known as a quality company whose professionalism and innovation has benefited the development of petroleum exploration and distribution in Alaska, Crowley has grown with and from Alaska and Crowley officials note how the company has been key to Alaska’s development.

“Before statehood in 1957 Crowley got its start in Alaska re-supplying the Arctic with fuel, materials, and equipment used to build the Distant Early Warning system,” says Bruce Harland.

But before that in 1953, Crowley pioneered barge use to transport railcars between Prince Rupert and Ketchikan.

Crowley transported cargo in containers from the Lower 48 to Alaska with a tug and barge service in 1958, which expanded to a multimodal transportation line called the Hydro-Train using barges with rail track to transport rail cars from Seattle to the Alaska Railroad terminal in Whittier.

Crowley grew its Alaska regional services from operations in Puget Sound and Los Angeles and now operates twenty-three offices statewide and employs nearly 600 people.

Today Crowley is positioned to provide energy across platforms to offer different fuel types whichever way the market swings.



Sealift Service to the Arctic

Creating a sealift in 1968, Crowley navigated partially frozen sea ice and gnarly seas to deliver construction materials and modules to Prudhoe Bay. Crowley carried more than 1.3 million tons of cargo with 343 barge loads to the North Slope during construction of the 800 mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

A testament to the company’s abilities came during the 1975 summer sealift when forty-seven barge loads from Seattle to Prudhoe Bay encountered the worst sea ice conditions of the century.

The trans-Alaska oil pipeline was under construction and needed supplies and prebuilt modules delivered to make its deadline for oil-in. The largest sealift in the project’s history was held up in sea ice that required extra measures to make the shore.

Stranded were 179 modules, some as tall as a nine-story building and weighing up 1,300 tons each, waiting for almost two months for the ice to retreat. Some of the barges rerouted to Seward for overland hauls of the cargo on the Dalton Highway.

Ten of the Crowley barges carrying the largest modules followed a US Coast Guard icebreaker through the sea ice toward Prudhoe. The ice soon closed again, stranding the barges one mile offshore from their destination. The oil companies then built a gravel causeway spit through the ice to retrieve the stranded modules from the barges.

“We have a dedicated sealift team who did the engineering to meet the challenge, developing as we go,” says Harland.

In 2010, Crowley delivered modules for ENI in a sealift from Louisiana to the Beaufort Sea. The largest modules ever made in Alaska, measuring ten stories high and weighing more than 3,500 tons each, were delivered to Northstar Island in 2001 by Crowley.


Innovations to Meet Challenges

During pipeline construction in ‘70s the company purchased Mukluk Freight Lines, Oilfield Services, Inc., a construction company, and became the marine contractor for oil spill response for Alaska Clean Seas.

During this era, Crowley was also involved in civil construction projects including the north-south runway at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, miles of highway, and Duck Island, the first drilling island in the Beaufort Sea, making Crowley more than a pipeline support company.

An example of Crowley’s ability to innovate is the CATCO All Terrain Corporation vehicles. These heavy lift overland transport units were acquired by Crowley in 1975 and were deemed more suitable for Alaska’s ice, snowfield, and tundra conditions than in the Middle East.

“The CATCOs were developed for Saudi Arabia for use in the sandy oil fields,” says Bruce Harland. “The sand was destroying the bearing on the units, so we modified them for use in Alaska. This allowed moving larger, heavier loads before permitting and making roads—a very costly expense.”

Other innovations by Crowley are the use of hovercraft on the ice and over water to supply laborers and materials to drilling operations on Beaufort Sea islands.

“Crowley is very, very good at passing expertise across cross functional teams,” adds Harland. “This has been extremely useful for innovation.”

Harland says Crowley developed shallow-draft fuel delivery equipment and remote drilling equipment with multiple capabilities for Point Thomson to meet the demands of near-coastal drilling challenges as just a few of its innovative accomplishments.


Spill Response

Crowley was the first to respond with tug boats when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in 1989. After the spill, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company added escort and docking services operated by Crowley. Crowley met the demand with the most powerful technologically advanced tugboats in the world. Created in 1989, Alyeska’s SERVS (Ship Escort Response Vessels Systems) was created to thwart further spill danger in Prince William Sound.

To date, Crowley has escorted more than 19,000 tankers and will continue through 2017 when it finishes an eight-year contract with Alyeska.


Fuel Distribution Centers

While the oil fields on the North Slope were under development, Crowley started service to 130 villages in Western Alaska with fuel and oil using special river barges. In the mid-1980s Crowley launched service to transport, store, and sell petroleum products in all of Alaska’s coastline and major Western Alaska river systems. Crowley currently operates fuel sales from tank farms in Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, and Anchorage, providing direct delivery of bulk fuels and packaged petroleum products. During summer months, line-haul barges are used to replenish tank farms and smaller lighterage barges that carry fuel to remote villages with no docking facilities. The company has more than 39 million gallons of fuel storage capacity in Alaska.

Crowley also offers “floater” fueling barges in Bristol Bay for the commercial herring and salmon fishing and processing industries.

Crowley obtained Alaska Avgas business from Chevron’s Richmond California refinery in 2012 and barges it to Alaska to retail sellers statewide.


A Crowley tug crew. 

Photo courtesy of Crowley


Alaska’s Future with Crowley

Today Crowley’s fuel distribution is about volume and long-term growth. With the purchase of Chevron terminals in Nome and Kotzebue and Yukon Fuels in Bethel, Cox says the company is poised to offer “one stop shopping” for energy.

“When market prices change over time, or energy types change, Crowley wants to be in a place to be there, to be ‘the’ energy supplier,” Cox says. “We want to adapt and change with it.”

To that point Crowley is the first to develop high capacity trucks for LNG (liquefied natural gas) to demonstrate LNG for use on rail and are the first certified to haul LNG on rail, Cox adds.

But as time ticks on, Crowley sees a bright future with the use of duel fuels. Recently Crowley facilitated a conversion of a power plant in Tok to use LNG from traditional petroleum fuel.

To meet Alaska’s future, both Harland and Cox are looking North to the future.

Cox says Crowley is hopeful in terms of resource development and sees Alaska LNG as the state’s next big development.

Harland looks to the marine and project development side of Crowley’s future in Alaska.

“There are lots of potential areas to look at: for example deep-draft port infrastructure that may be required if mining opens up,” Harland says. “Red Dog mine is one of the richest concentrations of ore bodies in the world. Limited graphite, high value rare earth metal demand, there is a lot of potential in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic and at some point, there will be a need for project management and port infrastructure development when Arctic marine transportation is more plausible.”

This article first appeared in the April 2017 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.

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