TOTE Tacoma Terminal Tour Its RORO Riffic!

By May, 2017Blog

This Spring a group of Tideworks employees teamed up with FOSS Maritime and TOTE Maritime for a unique tour of a RORO operation. What is RORO? Well at TOTE’s Tacoma location, the operation is nothing less than orchestrated chaos, but this professional and well trained team makes it seem less chaos, more finely tuned orchestra.

In the shipping industry, RORO stands for Roll On Roll Off. Anything with wheels such as automobiles, dump trucks, boats on trailers, as well as, track vehicles such as military tanks and excavators are considered RORO cargo. A vehicle that is manufactured in Japan can be rolled onto a specialized RORO vessel, transported across the ocean to a port in the United States, and rolled off the RORO vessel to its final destination.

TOTE Maritime is no stranger to RORO cargo. They have taken great pride in consistently delivering goods to Anchorage, Alaska from Tacoma, Washington since 1975. TOTE Maritime also provides twice-weekly and dedicated routes to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, connecting residents in these non-contiguous regions with the supplies they need to support their families, businesses and local economies.

The North Star and Midnight Sun TOTE Maritime vessels service the state of Alaska, each transporting up to 220 automobiles, 600 shipping containers, and numerous specialty items i.e. dump trucks, RVs, boats, etc. with twice-weekly deliveries from Tacoma to Anchorage year-round. The turnaround time in the Port of Tacoma is approximately eight hours total for off load of southbound cargo to loading of northbound cargo. The turnaround time in the Port of Anchorage is approximately eleven hours total for off load of northbound cargo to loading of southbound cargo.

The tour included four Tideworks Technology employees Kelvin Lee (Mainsail QA), Stephen Tran (Mainsail QA), Josh Lambacher (Mainsail BA), and Steve Albert (Mainsail BA), along with Mike Lauer from FOSS Maritime and Phil Morrell from TOTE Maritime.

After processing through the security gate, we rolled up to the TOTE Maritime Alaska headquarters building and were greeted by Phil Morrell VP Marine & Terminal Operations at TOTE Maritime. Phil’s big smile, enthusiasm, and historical expertise on the TOTE operation compels you to learn all you can about this unique operation.

Phil gave us a mandatory safety briefing then walked us through the terminal yard and up the stairs to the RORO Vessel appropriately named the North Star.  We boarded the North Star via one of two large specialized RORO ramps. While onboard, we all stood in amazement as we watched containers, automobiles, and specialized RORO cargo being off unloaded and loaded simultaneously. Trucks attack the base of the ramp with incredible commitment and speed up and into the vessel. Once on the vessel, the truck drivers maneuver the containers without error into the tightest nooks you can imagine on the various decks. It takes lots of training, constant communication, and life and death awareness to perform the job these drivers do so well.

RORO operations are unique compared to a container terminal operation. TOTE itself is unique compared to other RORO operators around the world. For example, most RORO operations do not have containers on trailers. Instead, RORO lines such as NYK Lines, WWL, and EUKOR have much larger RORO vessels for automobiles, equipment, and breakbulk cargo on MAFIS and bolsters. Those vessels could handle containers on wheels, but they leave the container operation to the standard container vessel. The TOTE RORO vessels are specifically designed for containers on wheels along with automobiles and miscellaneous equipment storage.

It was a thrill to tour one of these amazing vessels and see a vessel unload and load operation of RORO cargo. I’m very happy to have been a part of this experience.

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