The F/T Araho – 'The next level' for Bering Sea fishery
by Daniel Mintz
Vessel of the century: The O'Hara Corp.'s 100-plus-year history has reached many milestones, including the latest – the construction of a technologically sophisticated 194-foot-long factory trawler that will work the Bering Sea's flatfish fishery.
The Rockland, Maine-based company's progression from its start in the early 1900s – when wooden schooners were the norm – is at a peak with the F/T Araho.
The new vessel blends European design with a range of efficiency-oriented systems and is "the first U.S. flag freezer-processor factory trawler constructed in over 25 years," according to a press release from the company and Eastern Shipbuilding Group, the Araho's Panama City, Florida-based builder.
O'Hara Vice President Frank O'Hara Jr., whose father's grandfather founded the company, likened current fishing vessel advancements to those seen in the 1960s through the early 1980s. In that period, side trawls gave way to stern trawls, and a "big hydraulic push" emerged along with new electronics.
"During my father's time, that big jump came kind of all at once, and boats that operated that way are still being built to that standard," he said. "But out on the Bering Sea and in the Pacific Northwest, the fishery almost begs to go to the next level."
Restrictions on building and converting to bigger vessels were lifted several years ago, and the company opted for new construction rather than lengthening and widening one of its older vessels.
"Thank goodness we didn't do that because the new build, in our mind, is the way to go," O'Hara Jr. said.
Northern exposure: The Araho is the sixth and most sophisticated fishing vessel built for the company by Eastern Shipbuilding. The other vessels were built for the East Coast scallop industry, and O'Hara Jr. described them as "pretty basic workhorses, with minimal hydraulics, small fish holds, and minimal generation capacity."
With extensive refrigeration, a state-of-the-art processing factory, electrically driven winches, and energy-efficient power management, the Araho's electronics platform is "10 times as sophisticated as a scalloper," said O'Hara Jr.
Crew comfort is another important consideration. The vessel can accommodate 54 employees, with full bathrooms in every stateroom.
Former O'Hara Corp. fishing vessel captain Sewall Maddocks is the company's project manager for the new vessel. He described its design as Northern European, with a molded hull that contrasts with the hard-chined hulls traditional to U.S. shipbuilding.
The Araho's design is by the Norwegian firm Skipsteknisk AS, which specializes in bulbous bows customized for different maritime industries. The O'Hara team met the firm's architects at a trade show in Iceland, and O'Hara Jr. credited Maddocks with being able to draw their interest through discussions about fishing.
"It was a meeting that turned into a relationship that turned into a contract," said O'Hara Jr.
Breaking the ice: Fit for the Bering Sea, the Araho's bow has an ice-breaker design. "The ice will ride up on the bulb, and it will break by its own weight, rather than having to push through it," Maddocks said.
He added that ice davits are also part of the design, an aspect that's new to the U.S. fishing industry. The davits keep trawl wires in the stern ramp, out of the ice, while fishing.
The molded hull allows the vessel to move easily and efficiently through water and ice. It's one of many energy-saving aspects.
Power management is brought to a high level with electrical and automation systems designed by the Anacortes, Washington-based Ockerman Automation Consulting company. Efficiency is the pathway to maximizing a vessel's efforts because flatfish quotas have well-defined ceilings.
"If you can catch that quota for the least amount of money, your margins are going to be bigger," said O'Hara Jr.
Maddocks described a vessel's propeller as the biggest consumer of energy. "Power management is built around a propeller," he said, adding that turning it as slowly as possible and having the largest possible diameter enhances efficiency.
The Araho uses a "floating frequency" shaft drive system, allowing the main engine to speed up and slow down as needed. With a fixed frequency drive, the shaft turns faster overall and energy is wasted.
"Our electrical system is designed to allow us to slow the propeller down, which is more efficient," Maddocks said.
All electric: Unlike the many vessels outfitted with hydraulic engines that run hydraulic pumps to operate winches and other equipment, the Araho uses an electric system.
That allows a high power efficiency rate compared to a hydraulic engine system, where up to 35 percent of horsepower is used to drive pumps, said O'Hara Jr.
He contrasted the new vessel with his company's older vessels, which have engines and shafts with higher rotational speeds. "This boat is running 900 rpm with seven-to-one reduction, so the shaft is only turning 120 revolutions per minute," he said. "That shaft is turning slower, but it's turning a 12-foot diameter wheel versus a 7-foot diameter wheel."
The company's other vessels operate with up to seven engines, but the new boat will mostly use a single engine to power the electrical system. "There's a substantial savings in not having to run a tremendous amount of equipment to get the same results," O'Hara Jr. said.
The Araho's main engine is a 16-cylinder model made by Electro-Motive Diesel, an American company that specializes in locomotive engines.
"I wanted the serviceability," said O'Hara Jr., explaining the unique choice. "Once again, we went with our gut. It had a very good power management curve, and we gave it to our architects and they said, 'Wow, we've never heard of EMD, but this is a very good engine.'"
Labor savings: Another key element of a factory trawler is labor, and the Araho's processing factory streamlines it. Designed by Optimar, which has operations in Norway, Spain, and Seattle, the factory reduces the physical demands of processing work with fully automated systems.
"That involves conveyors and computers automatically feeding, unloading, breaking the product out of the pans, and bagging – all with machinery instead of physical work," O'Hara Jr. said. "That job is probably the hardest, most demanding, and least desirable on our existing boats."
The Araho's five automatic plate freezers each have a 20- to 25-ton per day maximum output capacity, but Maddocks said that the company will be "very comfortable" with a total 75- to 100-ton per day range.
The Araho's 825-ton hold capacity is about three times larger than that of the company's smaller boats and "over time, we'll be making quite a few less trips to town, which is obviously going to save fuel," said O'Hara Jr.
But product quality, not quantity, is the overarching goal. O'Hara Jr. said that with the processing system's three graders, "People don't have to sort through fish or think about what they're packing – they're just going to get the species and the size that they need to put in the pans."
New standard: The Araho offers an optimal working environment for crew members. O'Hara Jr. noted that employees are "giving up a lot" by committing to extended periods of work and long hours.
"But with that comes the benefit of good pay and now we've got quality of life – a nice place to live and work, which creates a teamwork environment," he said.
Though the Araho is outfitted with highly advanced systems, O'Hara Jr. emphasized that "there are some pretty nice boats in the Pacific Northwest that have quite a bit of this equipment and have nice platforms to fish off of."
But, he added, the Araho advances the Bering Sea's fleet of catcher-processors.
It's a sector that "grabbed old oil supply boats, old tuna boats, and existing wetfish boats and slowly converted them into a pretty efficient fleet for catching and processing flatfish, mackerel, pollock, and cod," said O'Hara Jr.
"But what we're seeing now are new platforms that will give us the safest equipment, safe materials, state-of-the-art firefighting, and watertight doors. All this is all-new to us, and it's bringing us to a different level," he continued.
Quota deal boosts O'Hara's Bering Sea work
The F/T Araho isn't the only new development for the O'Hara Corp.'s work in Alaska – the company has purchased 57 percent of the Fishing Company of Alaska's Bering Sea catcher-processor fishery quota.
catcher-processor sector. The F/T Araho is in Seattle and will begin work this month, joining the company's three other Alaska factory trawlers and the Alaska Spirit.
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