The first of three double-hulled tankers that Arco Marine Inc. is building to carry Alaska oil is about halfway constructed and should be ready for launching in 15 months, Arco said last week.
In 1990, Congress gave the Alaska oil shippers 20 years to replace their tanker fleets with ships that have two hulls. A year earlier, the single-hull Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound. A second hull between the tanker's oil and the reef might have prevented or reduced the spill.
The Arco Endeavour will be first into the water from the Avondale Industries shipyard in New Orleans, with a dedication scheduled for February 2000. The second ship, the Arco Resolution, should be ready in August of that year. And the Arco Discovery is slated for launching in the first three months of 2001.
Those ship names might sound dimly familiar to Alaskans, as they were taken from the three boats Capt. James Cook used to explore the North Pacific in the 1700s.
Each ship is expected to cost $180 million, to extend 895 feet and to weigh 125,000 tons when unloaded, the top deadweight for a tanker bound to Arco's refinery at Cherry Point, Wash., said Richard Ranger, manager of operational integrity for Arco Marine.
Arco's fleet consists of six crude-oil tankers now, with deadweights ranging from 70,000 tons to 265,000 tons, he said. Each of those ships eventually will be retired from the Alaska-West Coast trade.
Arco could order two more double-hulled tankers, for a total of five, depending on how much Alaska oil its parent company expects to be producing as of the year 2010. Atlantic Richfield Co. is the state's number two oil producer, behind British Petroleum.
A citizen's watchdog group that oversees Prince William Sound tanker traffic praises Arco's new-generation tankers.
''We are enthusiastic without qualification or reservation on those tankers,'' said Stan Jones, spokesman for the Regional Citizens Advisory Council.
''We're happy to see the double hulls coming in. We gave them (Arco) a plaque of appreciation because we liked it,'' he said.
''And we have noted that they went somewhat beyond the requirements in a couple of areas, which also makes us happy. And that was the installation of double rudders and double engine rooms. So these tankers can actually navigate and manage themselves if they have an engine failure or a rudder failure, because they've got two of each,'' Jones said.
Ranger said Arco ordered the second engine and rudder because the tankers will be under the control of a pilot in waters tricky to navigate for up to 30 percent of the trip, by time, between Valdez and Cherry Point.
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