Crowley Fuels successfully lightered and delivered nearly four million gallons of military specification fuel to Eareckson Air Station on the Aleutian Island of Shemya in Alaska, overcoming challenges that included Mother Nature’s destruction of the island’s shoreside dock, remote location and challenging weather and sea conditions.
Shemya’s radar and aircraft refueling station, Eareckson Air Station, and the 180 service members, contractors and civilians who operate it rely on Crowley’s twice-yearly fuel deliveries to supply fuel required for incoming aircraft for the Defense Logistics Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force and other state and federal agencies. With this season’s delivery, Crowley continued its nearly uninterrupted service record, which dates to 1956.
This year’s fueling, while similar in outcome, differed in complexity and execution. The operation, carried out in partnership between Crowley’s government solutions and Alaska fuels team, utilized the company-owned tug Sea Prince and 52,000-bbl. barge DBL-289 to execute multiple vessel-to-vessel lighterages, followed by multiple over the shore deliveries in lieu of a traditional alongside delivery.
“The successful completion of the Shemya fuel delivery, despite the environmental and infrastructure challenges, is representative of the reliable, flexible solutions that Crowley consistently delivers to government and commercial energy customers,” said Sean Thomas, vice president, in a prepared statement. “It’s a credit to our men and women at sea and ashore, who ensure safe and quality product can be delivered in the most difficult conditions in order for our service members to carry out their mission.”
Lightering operations to this island 1,200 miles from Anchorage are challenged by the “tyranny of distance,” converging at a location where tide and wave action, combined with drastic and sudden weather changes, create very narrow windows of opportunity for marine operations. After coordinating government, contractor and Crowley personnel, afloat and ashore, for the most appropriate operational timing, Crowley successfully lightered fuel from a contracted articulated tug-barge (ATB) offshore, then delivered it over the shore and into Eareckson’s shoreside tanks and trucks.
“Even with a relatively calm three- or four-foot swell, it's very much a contact sport and a very active sea out there,” said Crowley Fuels' long-time cargo operations manager, Anthony Morris, who leads the delivery activities.
Crowley’s crews have lightered fuel to Shemya for decades, but this latest delivery marks the end of an era of line-haul vessel delivery to the island. Starting in 2021, Crowley’s new, 55,000-barrel ATB Aurora/Qamun, soon to enter sea trials, will serve Crowley’s customers throughout western Alaska and the Arctic. The ATB is specifically designed to improve efficiency, maneuverability and operational capability in the challenging waters found surrounding Alaska. Pending the award of a new contract, the vessel will assume service to Shemya as well, continuing Crowley’s commitment to the mission at this remote and austere location.
Morris welcomes the change. “The crew of the ATB will be able to go into the harbor, turn, look at the weather and decide whether they can actually make it to the dock and exit without having to get alongside. It gives us a bigger window of opportunity, improves our operational efficiency and most importantly, further improves upon the already safe methods developed by Crowley,” he said.
That window of opportunity extends beyond the island of Shemya to the many remote villages of Western Alaska that also depend on Crowley’s capabilities and people who know how to get fuel over the shore in some of the most austere environments on earth.