Crowley in Alaska
Dedicated to Creating Lifelong Opportunities for Natives
At the southern terminus of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, Crowley provides tanker escort and docking services in Valdez Harbor and Prince William Sound for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (SERVS), utilizing some of the world’s most powerful, technologically advanced tugboats.
All photos courtesy of Crowley
For more than sixty years Crowley has provided Alaska, its people, businesses, and communities with essential fuels as well as energy support and maritime related services. But Crowley’s commitment to the state runs far deeper with the company providing Alaskans the opportunity to further their educations and careers through scholarships, mentoring opportunities, and even employment aboard its vessels and on shore.
By winter 2014, Crowley had invested nearly $2.5 million in these endeavors over the last three years alone.
Crowley understands that the people of Alaska have generously shared their Native lands for the economic benefit of themselves and others throughout the United States. In return, Crowley is working diligently with customer Alyeska Pipeline Service Company to train and hire Alaska Natives, thereby affording them the opportunity to gain a greater share of the state’s economic prosperity.
Captain Rodney Jones, general manager, Valdez.
In the early 1970s, an agreement was reached between the oil interests in Alaska and the federal government resulting in a grant of right-of-way for the construction of the eight-hundred-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline System. The pipeline allowed for the delivery of oil from the production fields on the North Slope to the Port of Valdez, where it could be loaded aboard tankers and shipped to refineries in the continental United States. As part of that federal agreement, the Alaska Native Utilization Agreement between Alyeska, the pipeline operator, and the Secretary of the Department of Interior was developed to address the concerns of the Alaska Native communities whose land and culture were directly impacted by the construction and operation of the pipeline.
The Alaska Native Utilization Agreement outlines expectations for Alyeska and its contractors, like Crowley, to provide employment, career development, and educational scholarships for Alaska Natives from communities along the pipeline corridor and throughout the state. Crowley, which employs more than five hundred people across the state, including ninety-four Alaska Natives, takes its commitment to meeting the goals established by the Alaska Native Utilization Agreement very seriously. In fact, the company has the most Native hires of any non-Native owned Alyeska contractor and has the highest rating for Native hire development.
“Crowley’s commitment to the Alaska Native community has provided incredible opportunities to Alaska Natives desiring careers in the maritime industry,” says Tabetha Toloff, Alyeska Alaska Native program director.
For over 50 years, Crowley has respected the picturesque leands and waters of Alaska, giving the utmost attention to preserving its beauty and furthering the lives of those who call it home.
Creating Vessel Employment Opportunities
“A key area of our commitment is the investment of time and money necessary to recruit and train qualified candidates for employment aboard our vessels and in our shoreside management,” says Captain Rodney Jones, general manager of Crowley’s marine services group in Valdez.
In Valdez, Crowley has created six entry-level, supernumerary (extra) positions, one aboard each of three tugboats—Alert, Attentive, and Aware—assigned to the area, affording Alaska Natives interested in an opportunity to join a crew with little to no maritime experience and, through dedication, hard work, and company-sponsored training programs, upgrade from entry level ordinary seaman or oiler ratings to an able bodied seaman (AB) limited position within only two and a half years.
The three Prevention and Response Tugs are normally manned with six positions: master, chief mate, second mate, chief engineer, AB, and able bodied cook, but in 2012 Crowley’s operations group committed to funding an additional position aboard each vessel to create opportunities for Alaska Natives to gain needed experience while working opposite shifts.
The supernumerary ratings are entry level positions created aboard Crowley vessels to provide exposure to the industry and allow the mariners the opportunity to accrue the sea time needed to advance their USCG (US Coast Guard) documentation. Three Alaska Natives, detailed later in this article, also went on to apply for, be accepted into, and successfully complete Crowley’s AB to Mate program. Crowley covered the expenses, including wages and travel, during the four to five months they attended class and received practical training to sit for a USCG Second Mate 1,600-ton license, making them qualified to fill a vacancy aboard any Valdez vessel contractually requiring this rating.
In addition to the positions created aboard the prevention and response tugs, Crowley also created entry-level engineering assistant positions aboard its conventional and anchor-handling tugs in Valdez, allowing Natives interested in an engineering career to train alongside a licensed engineer while acquiring the sea time to upgrade his or her merchant mariner credential.
“We created these entry level positions aboard our vessels to allow qualified individuals new to the industry the opportunity to acquire the sea time, training, and skill development needed to upgrade their Coast Guard documents and become eligible for permanent employment in a contracted position,” explains Jones.
In 2013 Crowley awarded four Thomas B. Crowley Sr. Memorial Scholarships to University of Alaska Fairbanks students Alexandra Bateman, Gabrielle Bragg, Diloola Erickson and Kimberly Greenway.
“In addition to vessel employment opportunities, we also work closely with Alaska’s Vocational and Technical Institute [AVTEC] to identify qualified, eligible candidates for scholarships in hopes that upon completing their training and certifications, the individuals will come to work for us in Alaska,” says Jones.
Each year since 2012, Crowley has offered two separate $2,000 scholarships to eligible candidates enrolled in classes and working toward license and document upgrades through AVTEC’s Maritime Training Center.
“It has been an absolute pleasure helping support Crowley’s mission to train and hire Alaskans for Alaska’s diverse maritime industry,” says Terry Federer, department head at AVTEC’s Alaska Maritime Training Center. “These generous Thomas B. Crowley Sr. memorial scholarships have helped many Alaskans bridge the financial gap to become professional mariners.”
Crowley has also granted $50,000 to date to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has given $6,000 to underwrite the Alaska Air Carriers Association Forrest Jones Memorial Scholarship, thereby establishing educational partnerships geared toward advancing opportunities for students, with a preference for Natives, from the rural communities in which Crowley operates.
And over the last four years, Crowley has funded four AB to Mate Program candidates. Advancing from AB to mate requires four to seven months of off-duty training. But Crowley has developed a program to assist interested ABs by allowing them to meet these requirements during their normally scheduled time at work. The program costs the company $50,000 to $75,000 per trainee but builds morale and loyalty among those who are able to benefit from it.
It is intended to develop the skilled, but unlicensed, seamen who have demonstrated both the potential and motivation to become licensed officers. After receiving their USCG license, the mariner is placed in a training mate position where, after completing the requisite training and assessments, they will be found competent to stand watch as the officer responsible for the safe navigation and maneuvering of the vessel.
“Four Alaska Natives have successfully completed the company’s AB to Mate program and are currently sailing on their mate’s license,” says Jones. “This required three months of classroom training, one month of license prep, US Coast Guard prep and exam, Towing Officer Assessment Record endorsement training and certification, during which time Crowley provided the candidates with tuition money, food, lodging, transportation, and paid them wages.”
Leading Community Engagement
One of the many ways Crowley stays in front of prospective employees, including young people still in school, is through community involvement and sponsorships in the places the company does business. Career fairs in local schools are particularly important.
“We want to get to these young people to let them know about career opportunities before they make poor life decisions that would preclude them from taking advantage of those opportunities,” Jones says. “We stress the importance of education, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and obeying the law.”
“There are some very cool and well-paying jobs we can offer to those Alaska Natives who are willing to put in the time and effort,” Jones says. “We are out in the communities telling that story whenever we get the chance. Many people are pleasantly surprised to learn that work schedules on our vessels often provide them with the flexibility to participate in seasonal activities, like hunting and fishing, which are important within their Native communities.”
Anna Clock, second mate trainee aboard tug Alert.
Meet some of the Alaska Natives within Crowley’s Ranks
Position: Second Mate Trainee, Alert
Birthplace: Seward, Alaska
Native Affiliation: Koyukon
Anna Clock caught the sailing bug early on from her dad who was an engineer aboard cargo vessels. He was gone for months at a time but always came back with new stories to pique her interest in a life at sea. When Clock was ten, her dad opened a charter fishing business where he, with Clock’s help, took tourists fishing for halibut and salmon. After working onboard with him, Clock eventually got a charter boat license, but after a couple years she wanted to be part of something bigger—bigger bridge, bigger crew, and bigger responsibility—so she visited AVTEC. She applied for and was given a Crowley scholarship and earned an AB Tankerman license in only two-and-a-half months. She then joined Crowley as an ordinary seaman then became an AB on the tugboat Aware after about a year.
Her crew encouraged her to take advantage of Crowley’s AB to Mate program so she spent the summer of 2013 at Pacific Maritime Institute. She is now a second mate on the tug Alert.
“The AB to Mate program is a rare opportunity in the industry where Crowley pays for wages, books, classes, housing, and food and guarantees you work on a three year contract upon completion,” says Clock. “When the Alaska Natives and elders signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, they had the foresight to look into the future and look out for their kids and grandkids. It allows people like me to have this opportunity and I am grateful for it. Having this job has personally about tripled my quality of life—being on the water, being part of a crew, and having the door wide open for improvement.”
Position: Second Mate Trainee, Aware
Birthplace: King Cove, Alaska
Native Affilitation: Aleut Corporation
Travis Koso started commercial fishing at a young age with his dad, then his granddad. After high school, Koso knew he didn’t want to make a career in the harsh winter fishing industry, but he didn’t possess a strong drive to take a run at college either. Luckily, Koso’s uncle worked for Crowley at the time and encouraged him to give employment with the company a go as well. Since he already had sea time from his fishing experience, Koso was only required to spend a month in Seattle getting his AB ticket before hopping onboard.
“As a Native Alaskan I was fast-tracked through the union process. Otherwise, I would have been on a waiting list for quite a while,” says Koso.
After about four years aboard Crowley’s tugs, Koso applied for the AB to Mate program. He successfully completed the program in the summer of 2013 and is now sailing as the second mate on tugboat Aware.
“My family thinks what I’ve been able to do is great. They are very happy for me,” says Koso. “A lot of kids my age who are still in the villages are still fishing and are even involved with drugs and alcohol. This opportunity got me out of that lifestyle and I’m grateful. Crowley’s Native hire program is really unique. No other job gives Natives the pay and benefits that Crowley does.”
In his off-time Koso still goes back to his village to hunt and fish with his parents and grandparents, helping them maintain their livelihood while also staying connected to his important Native heritage.
“Crowley provides a great opportunity, a great career you can be proud of. A good honest living,” he says. “It’s a great place to work, with great pay and great time off. And, you’re safe—the safety programs are very well-rounded. As an Alaska Native, I grew up on the water. I really enjoy being out and doing what I do. I can’t see doing anything else; I love boats and I love the water.”
Koso explains that these ordinary seaman positions Crowley has created for Alaska Natives introduce opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have. “People in the Native villages sometimes need a push. They don’t go looking for these kinds of positions but they are beginning to know that they exist.”
Travis Koso, second mate trainee aboard tug Aware.
Position: Port Captain, Valdez
Birthplace: Kodiak, Alaska
Native Affiliation: Yupik Eskimo
Tom Hancock, assistant port captain in Valdez, grew up fishing on vessels around Kodiak Island before earning a culinary degree in restaurant and hospitality management. Following some encouragement from a friend, Hancock became interested in sharing his cooking skills onboard a tugboat, and that’s just what he did. Hancock started as a cook/deckhand in Bristol Bay then moved on to Seward where he first encountered the new Crowley prevention and response tugs from a distance. At that instant, he decided he wanted to join the Crowley team. He used a grant to go to AVTEC and get his AB license and meet the USCG Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping requirements, then joined Crowley as cook/AB. He later applied for and received the scholarship he needed to join Crowley’s AB to Mate program. After six months at Piney Point, with his expenses paid by Crowley, he left school with a Mate, 1600GT Intracoastal license.
“It’s a big commitment to the community that Crowley hires Alaska Natives. Crowley wants to invest not just in infrastructure and equipment, but in people,” says Hancock.
That was almost five years ago, and now his career has taken another elevation as he’s moved onshore as assistant port captain.
“I take great pride in the work I do for Crowley,” he says. “Being from Alaska and having a great job gives me pride for my community and my family.”
While these three are certainly exemplary of Crowley’s Native-focused hiring practices, they aren’t the only ones. Crowley also provided work schedule and financial assistance to Emmett Anderson, the first Alaska Native to complete AVTEC’s Qualified Member of the Engine Department document upgrade course. Following his educational stint at AVTEC, Anderson returned to work aboard one of Crowley’s tugs as an assistant engineer.
In 2013, the Alaska State Legislature honored Leroy Edenshaw, who is Alaska Native, and the crew of the tug Alert for their superb performance during the emergency rescue tow of the drill barge Kulluk that went adrift off the southern point of Kodiak Island, noting:
“Although the Alert was operating in challenging sea conditions in a situation with an increasingly inevitable outcome, the calm and focused professionalism displayed by Captain Layton and crew throughout the events, particularly in the last two hours, is highly commendable…The crew safely and methodically adapted to changing conditions, used their training to identify and manage hazards, and then performed each task to minimize the risks associated with those hazards.”
In his position as ordinary seaman aboard Alert, Edenshaw contributed to the safe outcome of the response by assisting with communications during the approach, connection to, and release from the rig. In an interview shortly after the incident, the tug’s captain commented positively on the professionalism and excellent seamanship demonstrated by Edenshaw throughout the evolution.
Also in 2013, Captain Mike Taro Rich, a veteran master aboard tug Tan’erliq, appeared in an episode of the Weather Channel cable series “Heavy Metal Monsters.” The feature showcased the state of the art capabilities of the best available technology Enhanced Tractor Tug Tan’erliq and the highly trained and experienced crew, including Rich, who provided commentary on the vessel’s critical role in the safe movement of oil in Prince William Sound, where the tugs escort and assist tankers loading at the terminal.
A scenic view from the Crowley office in Valdez.
The list of exemplary Alaska Native employees goes on, very much like Crowley’s continued commitment to advancing interested Natives in their education and careers. The company values its people as one of its most important assets and credits employees like Clock, Koso, Hancock, Edenshaw, Rich, and the eighty-nine other current Alaska Native employees for contributing to its continued sixty-plus years of success serving the people, communities, and businesses of Alaska.
This article was reprinted with the permission of Crowley in the September 2015 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly. This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Crowley Maritime’s CM Connections Magazine.