Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Game Changer: F/V Blue North


The new vessel, seen here shortly after launch, turned out better than expected, says Blue North CEO Kenny Down, and will soon be joined by a sister ship. Photo by Kenny Down courtesy of Blue North Fisheries.

The term "state of the art" refers to the highest level of general development of a device, technique, or scientific field achieved at a particular time. The term is often tossed out as jargon in sales brochures, but when Kenny Down, CEO of Seattle-based Blue North Fisheries, uses it to describe his new boat, the term is accurate.

The 191-foot freezer longliner F/V Blue North, in the final phases of construction at Dakota Creek Shipyard, in Anacortes, Washington, is unlike anything ever built for a US fishing company.

The new vessel, launched last month, is being fitted out dockside prior to two months of sea trials leading to the Christening in late spring 2016.

The $35+ million vessel will be the only freezer longliner in the Alaska fisheries with a fillet line, and will include safety features such as a climate controlled indoor working space to gaff each fish coming into an internal moon pool, from a line coming up through the bottom of the boat. The moon pool is a 5-foot diameter opening in the hull that allows the crew to retrieve the gear from inside the vessel.

"She'll be an absolute game-changer," Down says. "There's nothing else like her."

Based in Seattle, Blue North Fisheries operates five freezer longliners in the bering sea and Gulf of Alaska and one smaller Seiner in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. Established in 1983, the company now harvests and sells more than 20,000 metric tons of fish and fish products each year. The F/V Blue North will be the company's first purpose-built bottom longline freezer/processor, and the first in the United States to have molded hull construction, a design that allows the vessel to travel more efficiently through the water because of decreased resistance. The soft chines and molded hull are unusual for the West Coast fleet, and indeed some of the steel's compound curves exceeded the capacity of the shipyard to produce in-house. "Some of the more complicated curves were formed overseas, where they've been building these hulls for a while," says Mike Nelson, Vice President of Dakota Creek. "The steel had to be certified by the Classification Society in Norway before it was shipped, in order to meet the classification requirements here in the US."

Norwegian Design

The Blue North was designed by Norway-based naval architecture firm Skipsteknisk AS. Inge Straume, fishing vessel Sales Manager for the Norwegian company, says the vessel is the company's third deep sea longliner, after the recently launched French boat Le Garrec and the Norwegian F/V Leinebris.

"We have 11 deep sea designs under construction in the fishing sector," Straume says. "In Europe there is a big demand for freezer trawlers to fish shrimp and whitefish but also pelagic species," he says. "You have a quota situation that is sky high from what we're used to."

Straume says the Leinebris is a more typical Norwegian type, with a slightly different concept. The boat has the same main dimensions, propelled by a conventional single screw. The vessel utilizes a retractable azimuthing thruster in the foreship to enhance maneuverability.

"These boats spend 22 hours hauling line," Straume says. "The bow thruster allows the captain to keep the boat pointed into the wind while reducing the possibility of tangling the gear," he says. "And most importantly, lowering fuel costs."

Not only does the Norwegian boat pull longline gear through the moonpool, but gillnets as well. The Norwegian fishery has been using a moonpool design for their fleet since 1998, Straume says, "And we were the first to come up with that design."

Skipsteknisk has been using the moonpool concept on its European fishing boats since 1998, and while Blue North is the first to introduce the concept to the US, another West Coast company, Fishermen's Finest, has commissioned a more conventional stern trawler for delivery by the same shipyard late in 2016.

"The Blue North is a very modern vessel," Straume says. "It utilizes a very advanced diesel electric platform, and although there is no bow thruster, the z-drive propulsion makes it very maneuverable."

Unconventional Propulsion

Another freezer/longliner recently delivered to the West Coast, the 184-foot Northern Leader, broke new ground when it introduced azimuthing stern drives to the North Pacific fishing grounds. Those drives, called z-drives because of their configuration, offered the new boat greatly increased maneuverability. The drives on the Blue North take that concept to another level. The Schottel-supplied units make use of two propellers each, one forward and one aft, turning in the same direction and separated by a deflection plate to smooth out the flow.

To improve engine efficiency while reducing fuel costs and emissions, the new vessel is powered with a diesel-electric propulsion (DEP) system, developed by Siemens. Instead of using diesel engines to power the drives mechanically, the Siemens BLUEDRIVE system uses two Caterpillar C32 engines and one Cat C18 driving diesel generators to generate power to drive the vessel's electric propulsion motors, as well as the processing plant, freezers, lighting, heating and marine electronics. A separate power management system, also provided by Siemens, determines how to use the generated power in the most efficient manner.

Because of the efficiency of the system and the engines selected, the Blue North will be the first large fishing vessels in the US to meet new federal Tier III emissions standards.

Siemens Marine Global Account Manager Luke Briant worked with Blue North Fisheries for three years, helping to develop various propulsion designs with several naval architects and providing data on reducing fuel and maintenance costs. "Siemens BLUEDRIVE technology has been used in Norway's fishing industry for 10 years," Briant says, and the system was also chosen for two high-tech Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) vessels recently built for the Office of Naval Research.

Blue North's management team traveled to Norway to meet with Siemens and assessed other long liners with the BLUEDRIVE technology. "They saw for themselves that Siemens could deliver on the reliability and efficiency calculations we had worked through."

Briant says the Siemens Power Management System and BLUEDRIVE system, coupled with the Schottel drives, could offer up to 30 percent fuel savings and an overall reduction in operating expenses, which should translate to a faster return on investment.

"The Blue North is pretty much state of the art for a longliner," Briant says. "It will operate very efficiently because of the way we configure the power management, while offering a reduced carbon footprint." The diesel-electric configuration also maximizes space for the factory, he notes.

With such a significantly reduced carbon footprint, Briant says, Blue North Fisheries will be able to deliver the highest quality cod products with the least fuel consumed of any long lining vessel operating in North America today.

"This boat will be the most advanced of its kind in the world," Briant says. "Blue North are going to be a leader in the industry, and introduce the concept of a 21st century longliner to the US West Coast."

Modern Processing Equipment

Norway-based commercial fishing equipment manufacturer Optimar supplied the processing line for the Blue North. The company has more than 40-years of experience providing processing equipment to the commercial fishing industry, providing onboard, onshore and aquaculture processing systems.

"Our engineers combine their experience and knowledge with our customers' needs to provide them with the best possible solution, from harvest to finished product," says Frank Flem, President of Optimar US. "The Blue North, has been equipped with our latest technology to make the vessel extremely efficient, and to be able to produce the best quality product and also to be a very safe workplace for the crew."

One of the unique pieces of equipment supplied by Optimar to the Blue North is an "Electro Stunner" to ensure gentle and humane harvesting of the catch. This operation also helps to minimize bruising and improve product quality.

Suitable for salmon, trout, cod, crab and other wild fish, the stunner is easy to use and needs little maintenance. Flem says the new generation of stunners is robust, suitable for unmanned operation and eliminates the risk of blood spots.

Another feature of the vessel's factory is revolving bleeding tanks, which give consistent dwell time for the bleeding of fish prior to de-heading and sorting. This will assist in getting a better quality product.

A size-sorting component for headed and washed fish will make packing simpler and more efficient, while automatic horizontal plate freezers increase product throughput and minimize crew needs. A semi-automatic packing line for both H-G and Shatter Pack product will also minimize labor needs in the case up area.

The new vessel's factory is also fitted with a system that automatically loads product into the cargo hold elevator, which also saves labor and offers a safer way to handle the product. Finally, a full circle round-about conveyor system in the cargo hold, with automatic in-feed into the offload elevator, makes the whole offload process easier and safer for the crew. "All of the product will go directly from the cargo hold onto the dock," Flem says, "where the crew can load the frozen product onto pallets or hand stack into a container."

Flem says Optimar's main focus is on making the complete lines user friendly, efficient and flexible, and that there is always a way to get the product through the factory.

"Our factory is designed to produce both headed and gutted product and fillets in shatter pack format," he says. Flem notes that the vessel's owners anticipated the possibility of adding features to the line in the future. "There is space and capacity for an additional stage to add more equipment to the factory in order to accommodate more consumer ready products."

Flem says every aspect of the day-to-day operation was considered in the design of this equipment, including the ease of maintenance and cleaning.

"The Optimar factory is even set up to deal with handling and processing by-catch, so nothing will go to waste onboard this vessel," Flem says.

Green Freezers

Highland Refrigeration supplied the self-contained refrigeration system based on DNV classification, with the main system operating with environmentally-friendly R-717 ammonia refrigerant.

The bait freezer, bait thaw room and pantry cooler and freezer operate on R-404A refrigerant, driven by two 5-HP seawater cooled condensing units.

The main system can operate at full capacity in up to 75°F seawater, freezing up to 120,000 pounds of lean fish in 24 hours, from 45°F to -10°F, in the 4 horizontal plate freezers.

The cargo hold refrigeration is performed by hot dipped galvanized coils specially designed and manufactured by Highland Refrigeration, with straight fins for optimal natural air flow and minimum frost build-up. The DNV approved coils are arranged in banks, for ease of installation, flanged to the refrigeration piping. The two cargo holds, with an approximately 28,000 cubic feet of combined space are held at -22°F (-30°C) while subcooling the daily production to 10°F.

The refrigeration for the main plant is supplied by a self-contained compressor skid, complete with two, 150-HP and one 75-HP (for cargo hold while steaming) GEA screw compressors, driven by High Efficiency TEFC electric motors.

The compressor oil is cooled by an energy efficient thermosiphon oil cooler and supplied to the compressors via 3-way Amot valves for accurate temperature control. Unisab III control panels control the compressor, ensuring best operating conditions.

The seawater cooled condenser is composed of 3/4-inch Titanium tubes, welded into Titanium clad tube sheets. The heads are also Titanium; so all surfaces that come in contact with seawater are Titanium, eliminating the need for corrosion zincs.

A separate skid contains the open flash economizer and low-pressure receiver/pump separator with Hermetic type, leak proof ammonia pumps.

The ammonia system is furnished with 6 DNV required ammonia sensors for automatic alarm in case of an ammonia escape being detected.

The inter-connecting piping was all installed in Highland Refrigeration's shop and pressure tested before delivery.

All electric motors on the system are TEFC with standstill heaters for longevity.

The entire refrigeration system is piped in stainless steel piping and TIG welded for cleanliness and durability. Even the valves for automatic defrost on the plate freezer are supplied in stainless steel, reducing the need for maintenance, ensuring a no-rust environment in the processing area.

Moonpool Milestone

Crew comfort will be a big part of the new vessel. A total of 16 staterooms, accommodating a crew of up to 26, each pre-fabricated with insulated walls, offer plenty of space for bunks and wardrobes, along with a head and shower for each stateroom on the vessel, a mixture of one and two two-person rooms. Off the factory, a wet room offers a space for the crew to remove their gear and place it in heated lockers and boot dryers before crossing to the dry crew spaces. After a break or a meal, the crew can recuperate their gear, now dry and warm, before going back to the factory or hauling station.

The vessel makes use of two freight elevators, one of which carries freight from the top deck through several levels, terminating at the cargo hold with stops at the factory level. Another carries product from the cargo hold to a conveyor that leads to the dock for offload. The second elevator system aft on the vessel loads from the stern cargo hatch and delivers bait to the bait hold and also stops at a mid-deck where groceries and supplies can be offloaded. Bridge wings offer a good view of loading and offloading.

The aft deck is fitted with a crane and the uppermost freight elevator opening, while the forward deck is relatively unencumbered, because all the work on the boat is done below decks. A forward crane is also fitted to help loading of supplies forward.

Of all the technical innovations designed into the new vessel, the fishing system might be the most unusual. The internal haul station means the crew will no longer be exposed to the rough seas, freezing temperatures, darkness and the risk of being swept overboard. Instead, hauling will take place in a well-lit, climate-controlled environment, with immediate access to the factory forward and the gear storage and launching area aft.

Longlining for Pacific cod in the bering sea can be treacherous, with regular working conditions including freezing weather and big waves. "In twenty-foot seas, the level of water in the moon pool will only rise about three feet due to the large expansion chamber for sea water at the internal hauling area," Down says.

Optimar's "Electro Stunner" ensures gentle and humane harvesting and helps to minimize bruising and improve product quality. Photo courtesy of Optimar.

Blue North will produce frozen-at-sea Alaskan cod, boneless cod fillets and a large variety of other products on board. Each fish will be immediately processed and frozen within minutes of being caught, and the vessel has a capacity of 1.3 million pounds of frozen product. Along with the retail-ready products, the factory will be able to retain and process products previously considered waste.

"We're not going to catch more fish with this vessel, but we're going to be able to use more of what we do catch," Kenny Down says. This includes cod skin, fish stomachs and livers, fish roe and even the frames, which they ship to Asia, where the swim bladder is considered a delicacy.

"Ancillary products should add 20 or 25 percent to the bottom line by just processing what we've been throwing overboard," he says. "You're not trying to catch as many fish as you can," says Down, "You're trying to do the most with the fish you catch."

Down says the vessel is turning out better than expected, and the company plans to exercise an option to build a second boat to the same design: state of the art.


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