Key Alaska cargo ship sidelined in Tacoma by mechanical trouble

A cargo ship that’s a workhorse in the supply chain that delivers groceries, cars and construction materials to Alaska could miss two weeks as a result of mechanical issues, a TOTE Maritime Alaska representative said Tuesday.

The repairs required for the North Star, an 840-foot ship, bring a temporary reduction to the fleet of four big cargo ships that haul supplies weekly to the Don Young Port of Alaska in Anchorage.

The ship missed its scheduled May 28 visit because of the problem. It’s expected to miss next Tuesday, then return June 11, said Art Dahlin, vice president and Alaska general manager with TOTE Maritime Alaska.

Still, consumers in Alaska should not notice fewer products on shelves, he said.

That’s because the company worked with other shipping companies to find alternative means to get the North Star freight to Alaska, such as by truck and barge, he said. TOTE worked with Matson, the port’s other key cargo shipper, to move some of the freight. It’s also filling extra space on TOTE’s Midnight Sun vessel, which is still calling on Alaska, he said.

Priority was given to critical items such as perishable groceries, including produce and milk, he said.

[Earlier coverage: How one cargo ship delay sends ripples through Alaska’s food supply chain]


“The incident happened Saturday and the team was on the line working arrangements to be sure that all the freight would get up here as as it would in a normal schedule,” Dahlin said. “In my summation, the community won’t feel it, but this is what we plan for.”

The North Star experienced a problem with its propulsion system Saturday, not long after it had left Tacoma, Washington, bound for Anchorage, he said. It returned to Tacoma out of an abundance of caution and is undergoing repairs there, he said.

The cargo ships that call regularly on the port play a big role in Alaska. Matson also brings two ships weekly. The port is the conduit for half the freight that arrives in Alaska.

Planned shipping outages occur regularly, Dahlin said.

“The key is the freight network (to Alaska) flexes to support that,” he said. “The difference is this time it was unplanned, but the freight network still flexed to minimize the impacts to Alaska. Everyone knows that serving Alaska is priority No. 1.”

The TOTE and Matson cargo ships arrive on Sundays and Tuesdays, launching an elaborate logistical effort to resupply stores shelves and supply yards in Anchorage and elsewhere.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or