Monday, October 14, 2013

Northern Leader

By Kathleen Gleaves

When the newest longliner in the United States casts its first hooks in the chilly waters of the Bering Sea in late July, it will carry with it a long list of superlatives; Largest freezer longliner in the world by volume, first diesel-electric powered azimuthing pod propulsion system (z-drives) on a fishing boat, and greenest fishing boat in terms of fuel consumption and emissions.

Named the Northern Leader, it is owned and operated by Alaskan Leaders Fisheries and is the fourth and largest longliner in their fleet. Sea trials are scheduled for shortly after Memorial Day with final delivery on June 21st.

The vessel was designed by Jensen in Seattle, a subsidiary of the Crowley Company, and built by the J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Company in Tacoma. The $30 million construction project provided more than 100 jobs and apprenticeships on site, and was championed by Congresswomen Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

The vessel measures 184 feet by 42 feet and has 38,000 cubic feet of freezer space that equates to a storage capacity exceeding 1.8 million pounds of frozen fish. The hold capacity and a new quota system that allows for a more leisurely-paced processing method enables the Northern Leader to utilize nearly 95 percent of the intended catch, Pacific cod, as well as unintended bycatch, one of its many “green” features.

Alaskan Leader Fisheries is a partnership of several fishing families from Kodiak and a consortium of native fishing villages known collectively as the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. The new vessel will be homeported in Kodiak, Alaska.

Power and Propulsion
From the start, the Northern Leader was different. Owner Nick Delaney of the Alaskan Leader Fisheries decided early on that he wanted a z-drive propulsion system after seeing its maneuverability and reliability on cruise ships, z-tugs and platform support vessels. “It was a bold move,” says Jonathan Platt, VP of Martinac Shipyard.

From there the decision to use diesel-electric propulsion was simple. Electric motors are well-suited to z-drives because they can respond quickly and capture braking energy, returning it to the electrical system of the ship thereby regenerating energy back to the ship’s electrical system for hotel and processing loads. The diesel electric propulsion and power system matches the available power to the power required, running only as many generators as required to meet the power demand for each phase of the operation. The system automatically adjusts for weather and sea conditions, thereby saving fuel and minimizing emissions. This ability to fine tune power usage is expected to reduce overall fuel consumption by roughly 300 gallons a day.

The vessel carries approximately 136,000 gallons of diesel to power its two, 1,000-kW Schottel Z-Drive rudder propellers, type SRP1012FP in the stern, and one, 300-kW Schottel tunnel thruster, type STT170FP in the bow, all built in Germany. NC Power Systems of Seattle provided four, 715-kW Caterpillar C32 gensets, one 425-kW C18 genset, and one 238-kW C9 emergency genset.

The two z-drives in the stern provide the main propulsion, while the bow thruster aids in maneuverability. A single joystick on the bridge controls all three propulsion devices. “The ‘Master Stick,’ combines steering, power and maneuvering in one place,” says Schottel, Inc. President, Nils Moerkeseth. The z-drive propulsion allows for more precise positioning of the ship over the hook line during the process of hauling in the catch, giving the boat a simplified form of Dynamic Positioning (DP).

Navigation and Controls
Harris Electric in Seattle provided the navigation electronics package that included Stealth brand touch screen monitors. Hydro acoustics gear included Simrad EX70 split beam echo sounders, a 70 kHz and a 120 kHz model. A Furuno FCV1200 black box echo sounder and a Furuno C168 black box current indicator round out the package.

Constructing a full-size plywood mock-up of the bridge allowed the Captain to help locate equipment to maximize usability. In addition, standing in the mock-up revealed the need to re-position the Captain’s chair for a better view of the line retrieving station, a critical function on a longliner.

For navigation, Eric Sundholm of Harris simply stated, “There’s lots of Furuno.” The equipment includes a GP150 GPS, SC 50 and SC30 satellite compasses, and FAR 2127 black box radars with a 6.5-foot array.

Techsol, a Canadian firm headquartered in Quebec and recently acquired by IMTECH, provided the main and emergency switchboards, electronic variable speed drives for the azimuthing propellers, and the power management system (PMS). They provided the propulsion equipment integration as well.

With freezer longliners now operating as a cooperative and each boat fishing to a pre-assigned quota, the intense competition of the past has relaxed and boats are able to be more deliberate and less wasteful in their processing. The Bering Sea earns a Fish Stock Sustainability Index (FSSI) rating of 4, the highest possible score, from NOAA.
The Northern Leader will fish for cod laying a 45-mile line of hooks, some 76,800 hooks in total spaced 4 to 5 feet apart along the line. The Mustad Autoline Super Baiter, manufactured in Norway, reduces the once arduous task of baiting each individual hook to a one-person job. The crewmember’s job is to feed the bait fish into the hopper; the Mustad system does the rest. Automation allows the ship to lay the entire line in as little as 6 to 8 hours. Then the ship circles back and begins the 16 to 18-hour process of hauling in the line and transferring the catch to the onboard processing plant.

Processing and Freezing
The vessel’s 38,000 cubic feet of freezer space has a frozen production capacity of more than 1.8 million pounds with a daily H&G freezing capacity of 153,000 pounds. The production capabilities and storage space allows crews to fully utilize not just the primary catch, but byproducts and bycatch that would have been discarded overboard in the past.

Cod heads, a high-protein commodity previously considered waste, will be preserved and exported abroad along with the livers and oils. The frozen byproducts are transferred to a landside processing plant where they are ground into fishmeal fertilizer. According to Delaney, the Northern Leader will effectively use up to 95 percent of the catch, a significant improvement over the industry norm of about 50 percent.

Highland Refrigeration in Seattle supplied five horizontal plate freezers that use a double-contact process to quickly freeze the catch to maximize quality. A new twist on the process includes what Lars Matthiesen of Highland describes as an “ice slurry bath” where the fish are bled before being cleaned and frozen. The ice bath drops the fish temperature by several degrees, effectively reducing the subsequent freezing time. The Northern Leader is the first longliner using this new system, but Matthiesen believes it will become the industry standard.

The Seattle office of Marel, an Icelandic company, and Carnitech, a Danish company, provided the fish processing equipment.

Creature Comforts
While the boat provides berthing for 31, it will generally operate with 24 to 28 crewmembers. Some will be fishing while others are involved in the processing and freezing operation. The living quarters cater more to creature comforts than quarters built two decades ago. Unlike the older boats, the Northern Leader’s sound insulation allows crew members to speak at normal levels and be heard, thanks in part to the Inexa floating floors that offer sound insulation as well as giving the ship deck an A60 fire rating. The Jensen-designed interior has a professional, restaurant-quality galley and a comfortable dining area.

Design and Construction
Jensen produced the initial design for Alaskan Leader Fisheries and also completed the production drawings for Martinac. “It was a terrific design – logical and buildable,” said Platt.

Ron van den Berg, Manager of Ship Structures at Jensen, served as Project Manager. He worked closely with the production engineering team in the office and welders in the yard.

One of the most unique features of the Northern Leader won’t ever been seen by the crew or the public. It was all in how the ship was built. Utilizing the best of modern technology, Jensen’s production engineering staff, led by manager Ed Silchenstedt, “built” the ship on the computer first. Elwood Ide designed detailed piping drawings and Craig Savey, Dan Hughes and other lofters built a virtual ship in 3-D using the powerful Ship Constructor software. Building it on the computer first allowed engineers and architects to find discrepancies and fix them before a single piece of steel was cut.
“It’s not unlike a piece of Ikea furniture,” says Jensen Vice President, Johan Sperling. “All the pieces are cut to the right size, and you just put it together like a puzzle.”

When Jensen proposed this novel approach, the shipyards first response was, “It won’t work,” said Platt. Gradually they came around to, “Hope you’re right,” he continues. He admits he was skeptical, but they took a chance. “We trusted Jensen to know what they were doing. It all fit,” he says with some amazement.

“Many of our engineers have carried a [cutting] torch themselves,” says Sperling explaining how they were able to bridge the traditional communication gap between engineers and shipfitters. Jensen’s engineering team worked alongside the welders in yard, making tweaks and changes to piping and structure design on the spot.

Thanks to the details in the drawings, the steel was cut neat with very little “green steel” – the term used for excess steel cut away during the fabrication process as waste. By designing each section to precise measurements, the yard generated less waste product. Unlike shipbuilding in the past, Martinac was able to build the ship in less time than traditional construction methods, and at a significant cost savings. The technique, “…minimizes parts, minimizes brackets and minimizes welding,” says Sperling. Owner Delaney is very happy with the process and the final product.

In the past, engineers sat in an office and made nice drawings that they handed over to a shipyard. The shipyard staff would figure out how to actually build the ship. The methodology was imprecise, and required a lot of extra steel to cover the unknowns. Today shipyards no longer have the luxury of in-house production design staff and are turning to engineering firms to fill that role. Given the opportunity and the technology, engineers are more focused than ever on designing a ship that is easy and relatively inexpensive to build.

“Europe has taken advantage of technology to drive shipbuilding forward,” says Sperling. “We have the opportunity to help shipyards revolutionize shipbuilding in the US.”

Platt validates that view, but admits that changing long-held methods will be hard, “It’s up to the shipyards if they want to make the effort to do it.”


Green is a term thrown lightly about, but the Northern Leader earned a number of green credits, from their expansive use of LED lighting, onboard automation, elimination of discarded fish byproducts, fuel savings and emissions reduction from the use of diesel electric propulsion, and a less wasteful construction method. The vessel is leading the way toward a greening of the fishing industry. Although the current fleet is aging and inefficient, and lacking the high-tech processing and freezer capacity of these new boats, the rising cost of fuel might be the catalyst that drives more in the industry toward new vessels.

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