Upon the request of the Commander of the Military Sealift Command, Totem Ocean Trailer Express
, Inc. (TOTE), will lend the assistance of the S. S. Northern Lights to transport military hardware to Southwest Asia. The ship departed Tacoma, Washington Sunday, February 9, and will arrive in San Diego to be loaded with military cargo mid week.
An Alaska corporation founded in 1975, TOTE maintains three Roll-on/Roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo trailer ships for the Puget Sound-Anchorage trade. Typically the S. S. Northern Lights and her sister ships, the S. S. Westward Venture and S. S. Great Land, are engaged in transporting vehicles, trailers, construction equipment, and other merchandise from the Port of Tacoma, Washington to the Port of Anchorage, Alaska. As part of the Jones Act in the U.S. Coastal trade, TOTE’s vessels are required to be U.S.-built, U.S.-owned, and U.S.-crewed. According to Robert Magee, TOTE's President and CEO, “We are proud to provide one of our vessels to aid the United States, plus the importance of the Jones Act is underscored by the U.S. military requesting our firm to provide a vessel to support our national interests."
The S. S. Northern Lights is one of three Ponce-class vessels owned by TOTE. The vessel will be under military charter to the Military Sealift Command. The vessel is a Ro/Ro (roll-on, roll-off) self-sustaining trailer ship built in 1974. It is 105 feet wide, 791 feet long, and has a deadweight tonnage of 17,900 tons. The ship can carry 12,000 metric tons of material, equivalent to over 400 over-the-road trailers. The special design of the vessel enables most any vehicle to be driven aboard, making it an exceptional vessel for charter to the military. It can sail at a top speed of 24 knots.
According to Alaska’s senior Senator and Senate President Pro Tempore, Ted Stevens, an unfailing advocate of a U.S.-flag merchant marine, "As a strong supporter of the Military Sealift Program, I am pleased that the S .S Northern Lights, a TOTE Alaskan cargo vessel, will assist our men and women in the armed services. I commend TOTE's involvement in this program
that provides vital strategic sealift assets to the U. S. military in support of our daily operations overseas."
Says Washington State Congressman Norm Dicks, also a consistent advocate of the U.S-Flag Merchant Marine, "Operation Enduring Freedom stands to benefit from the logistical expertise of an experienced domestic commercial vessel operator like TOTE. Our military can be certain the private-citizen crew and officers aboard the S. S. Northern Lights will get this critical hardware to our troops when and where it is needed. Most of all, I am proud that a local company and its dedicated employees are helping in this difficult supply effort."
One of those private-citizen crew members, John Glenn, the S. S. Northern Lights' boatswain, is a resident of Alaska, having lived in Anchorage for the last 17 years. Although the voyage is not without risk, as the vessel's foreman, John was motivated to pursue the journey. He compares the experience to his first years at sea sailing aboard cargo and ammunition ships headed to Vietnam. Glenn has all the Coast Guard certified training required and is expecting one more security training exercise before leaving the states.
"We've got a good crew and officers... it may be hard for my family, but this is the ship I belong to," Glenn reflected.