The vessel is part of a feasibility study for Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. to test whether Alaska coal can be exported via Port MacKenzie to Japan by J-Power, a Japanese wholesale power producer. If so, some 7 to 9 vessels per year could call on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough beginning in 2012, adding a second Alaska port for coal exports.
For this test run, 76,000 tons of coal was loaded in Seward, and 1,250 tons from Port MacKenzie topped it off. The coal was delivered to the port from Healy by covered truck. Wishbone Hill Mine could supply coal as well. Long-term trucking from Healy to here would be cost prohibitive. However, the coming rail will make it economical. Just the day before the ship arrived, $35 million in state funding was appropriated to the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension, pushing it into construction mode. Also identified for the port is $750,000 for completion of the expansion of the barge dock. All the pieces are shaping the port into becoming a world-class natural resources exporting facility.
The timing couldn’t be better for Borough Manager John Duffy who led the effort and is resigning as manager this month after ten years at the helm.
“This confirms every effort we’ve been making at Port MacKenzie—the economic studies, the investment—the prediction that if we built a rail to tidewater and a deep draft dock we would begin exporting bulk commodities,” Duffy said. “The 7 to 9 Cape size ships expected per year show that others see this opportunity. The new Port MacKenzie Rail line will help make Alaska coal more competitive on the world market. Beyond that, the rail line will create up to 5,000 Alaska jobs in construction, mining, and support services.”
Friday at the dock, Port Director Marc Van Dongen called the ship’s arrival a “milestone.” The massive ship, with its draft reaching 45.3 feet down into the current, still had another 14 feet of water beneath it at low tide. That’s why Port MacKenzie is called the northernmost deep draft dock in the U.S. A ship of this size is too big for the container Port of Anchorage. The “JP Azure” is 29 feet longer, 20 feet wider, and 8.5 feet deeper than the biggest ship we’ve brought in here,” Van Dongen said. At 754 feet long and 125 feet wide, the ship is called a Super Panamax vessel. Despite the girth, as the “JP Azure” approached it stopped three feet from the fenders on command. Van Dongen said then the ship lined up just two feet aside the planned location, a near perfect arrival.
Van Dongen said the Port MacKenzie is exporting coal for the first time ever. Coal is the fourth commodity to move across the dock.
Saturday, without a hitch, the crews moved the vessel twice to position different holds beneath the conveyor.
With the demonstration a success, Saturday night, the “JP Azure” will depart for Japan loaded with 170 million pounds of Alaska coal.
View the video of the ship at