Trawler’s a pioneer of technology in the Alaskan seas

Northern light

Work on North Star Fishing Co.’s North Star has put KONGSBERG at the heart of a new generation of sustainable vessels.

    Senior Manager PR & Communications

At 18 he was a ‘gear guy’ on a longliner working out of Seattle, then he joined a catcher processor where he quickly moved up the ranks from deckhand, to deck boss and then to first mate in six years. That was 17 years ago and today he is captain of the 262-foot North Star catcher processor – one of the most technologically advanced fishing vessels in the seas off Alaska.

The North Star is in the vanguard of a new generation of energy efficient and sustainable fishing vessels working in the Alaskan fisheries and was commissioned by North Star Fishing Co. in 2015. The vessel was designed by Norwegian ship designer, Skipsteknisk AS, and built in Panama City, Florida. Kongsberg Maritime was given the overall responsibility for the integration of its equipment.

Josh Buchan, Captain of the 262-foot North Star

Kongsberg Maritime supplied the main engine, gearbox, propeller and tunnel thrusters, rudder and steering gear, permanent magnet electrical winches and trawl infrastructure, as well as electrical and power management systems and automated control system. 

At the heart of the North Star is a Carsoe designed state-of-the-art fish factory which can process and freeze 150 tonnes of Alaska groundfish per day, and is outfitted to accommodate 72 crew. Additionally, full utilisation of the catch was an important consideration for the vessel and its crew and the North Star is outfitted with a Hedinn hf. designed and installed fishmeal and fish oil plant producing up to 15 metric tons of fishmeal per day. This is the first of its kind for a vessel in the multispecies groundfish fisheries in Alaska.

“It is the most technologically advanced catcher processor in this country, so learning about all the technology it has to offer and being able to use that technology to harvest the fish safely and efficiently was the most exciting thing about taking command of the ship.”
Josh Buchan, Captain of the 262-foot North Star

As captain of the North Star, Josh worked as an integral member of the owner team and with Kongsberg Maritime in the planning and construction of the vessel from its early inception, and was a frequent visitor to the shipyard in Florida. 

Despite the delays in commissioning, caused by the severe damage incurred during Hurricane Michael in 2018 requiring a considerable salvage operation to refloat and rebuild her, Josh was keen to finally take the ship out of dock for sea trials and on to the fishing grounds in late 2021.
Hurricane Michael in 2018

Efficient performance

With its new 6,600 horsepower engines and electric winch configuration, the North Star uses a twin trawl system, pulling two large 550-mesh nets. Josh adds: “There's only one other vessel in Alaska using the twin trawl system, so we're really on the leading edge of this technology and how to adapt it to our fisheries.”

Crucial to the success of the twin trawling system has been the installation of three Kongsberg Maritime trawl winches, which use gearless permanent magnetic electric motors instead of the conventional hydraulic systems.

6,600 horsepower engines
6,600 horsepower engines

Josh is very happy with the performance of the new winches. He says: “I've used both high pressure and low-pressure hydraulic systems before and this is the first electrically driven winch system that I've used. The modulation that you get with running the winches and the tension control this gives you on the trawl lines is second to none – it is absolutely amazing. And the ability for the automated system to control the winches in heavy weather is great as I've noticed that I'm able to have much more effective control of the net.”

It’s the consistent tension on the trawl lines that allows Josh to optimise the position of the nets, and this is all helped by the ability of the winches to react instantly to rapidly changing conditions.

“It’s important to keep the tension on the trawl lines exactly the same as the ship heaves and pitches in the sea, and the electric witches can respond really fast. I could not get that degree of control with a high-pressure hydraulic system. 

He adds: “The trawl system has been fantastic; the commissioning of the trawl system and the net handling winches have been the best in my experience, hands down.”

North Star have a 360-degree view from the bridge at all time.

Josh says: “KONGSBERG’S Acon Bridge Control system is completely new for me; it’s a significant improvement to be able to comprehensively see what's going on around the ship from the bridge all the time. I can see the status of the propulsion and steering, see what the pitch controls are doing along with a complete and logical view of all sensors and alarms. For example, if I know if I'm going to make a turn in bad weather and I know where the boat’s going to heel over, these controls let me correct that heel before that happen

Fuel efficiency and reliability

Jim Johnson, President and CEO of Glacier Fish which manages North Star Fishing Co. says that reliability, safety and sustainability were the key considerations when commissioning the new vessel: “The US fleet fishing the Alaska and Bering Sea fisheries are ageing and we needed a new vessel to keep ahead of the game in terms of the efficiency of our operations and the provision of a good working environment for our crew.

“When you are operating 300 days a year under difficult conditions, offloading and backloading supplies and provisions each two weeks, unfailing reliability is essential for our business. Fuel is a major cost item so we wanted the most fuel-efficient engines and systems we could procure, and with the new deck set up and winches, enabling us to use a twin trawl system, we can increase the efficiency of our catch and thereby reduce our fuel usage per tonne of fish caught.

"Fuel efficiency is a key performance indicator in our business and is also a very important consideration for our customers who are increasingly interested in the carbon footprint of their supply chain.”
Jim Johnson, President and CEO of Glacier Fish

North Star made a conscious decision to achieve increased energy savings opting for a floating frequency power management system. Accordingly, North Star’s internal power system can run between 50 and 60 hertz, which is a range that provides optimal energy consumption.

Sustainability of our operations is an important consideration in the seas around Alaska but for North Star Fishing Co. it goes beyond the continuing health of the fishing grounds, full utilisation of the catch and energy used to catch a tonne of fish – it also includes the quality of life aboard the North Star. Jim explains: “Our goal is to make our vessel a place where individuals want to make a career out of fishing. To do that, you have to create working and living conditions along with efficiency in our operations that provide strong family wage jobs and a career path. That’s why we designed the hull to reduce the noise and vibration and fitted the vessel with high quality living accommodation with en-suite facilities for each of the living quarters.

“Our automated fish factory is a game changer too, whereas a lot of the manual and heavy lifting work has been significantly reduced through automation. The automated systems and complexity of the vessel creates the need for more skilled positions which in turn provides opportunity for the advancement of our crews.

“Sustainability to us means many things: the way we conduct our fisheries in accordance with best practices and impacts on the environment, the fuel usage of the vessel itself, and the working and living environment we create on board.

While North Star’s advanced technology makes Josh’s role as a captain easier, he still relies on all his wide experience and knowledge to find fish and judge the conditions for optimum fishing while also considering the safety of his crew.

Safety is always a key consideration when working in some of the most difficult conditions in the world, where winter storms are frequent and severe, and redundancy is a critical consideration. That’s why the North Star is fitted with Kongsberg Maritime’s Take Me Home package, which can reroute the vessel’s auxiliary power to the main propeller system in case of a major power failure. Knowing that also provides peace of mind for the crew.

The North Star is now one of the most technologically advanced ships in the Alaskan fleet.

He explains: “Although there was a period of conversions and updates in the US fishing fleet in the 1980s there have been very few new builds since, so the fleet as a whole is ageing and will need renewal soon if it wants to keep efficient and sustainable.

“The North Star is now one of the most technologically advanced ships in the Alaskan fleet and we like to think that with Kongsberg Maritime you stay ‘future relevant’, because we have the broadest product portfolio in the marine world which keeps us in the forefront of fishing vessel development. So, we'll be here for future upgrades to North Star, if required, and to meet the other renewal needs for other vessels in the US fishing fleet.”
Ottar Antonsen, Kongsberg Maritime’s Vice President Sales

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