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AFSC Historical Corner:  Pribilof,  Bureau's Last Pribilof Tender (1964-75)

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FSR-791
The freight and supply Army vessel FSR-791 prior to becoming the Pribilof.
Higgins Industries Collection photo.  Earl K. Long Library.  University of New Orleans.
 

Vessel Details
Year built: 1953-54
Location built: New Orleans, LA
Builder: Higgins Industries
Designer: Alden
Other names/id: FSR-791 (Army)
#293151  (USCG ID)
Length: 223'
Breadth: 38.5'
Draft: 16'
Tonnage (tons): 1,187 gross
Original engine: 700 hp White-Superior
National twin-diesels
Average speed: 11 knots
Cruising range: 8,400 miles
Known skipper: Fred Langbehn  (1965-72)
Pribilof service: 1963-75
(BCF took ownership in 1964)
Disposition: sold in 1975
Pribilof photos in the
AFSC Multimedia Gallery

In the early 1960s, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF) considered acquiring a larger replacement for the aging Penguin II, which had become too small and inadequate for use as the BCF's Pribilof Islands tender. In October 1962, the U.S. Army agreed to lend the BCF a 223-foot freighter, the FSR-791, from its mothball fleet. The next year, the BCF put the vessel to use on the important transport runs to and from the Pribilof.

The steel freight and supply (FS class) ship was built around 1953-54 for the Army by Higgins, Inc. in New Orleans, Louisiana. The shipyard would be purchased by Halter Marine in 1987, which built the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson (in 2003) among other fisheries research vessels. The FSR-791 was powered by National twin-diesel (Superior model) 700-horsepower engines (with three auxiliaries) and was equipped with refrigeration capabilites.

The Bureau took ownership of the FSR-791 in 1964 and aptly renamed her the Pribilof. This resulted in the permanent removal of the Penguin II from the BCF fleet. The Pribilof proved well suited for transporting passengers and cargo between Seattle, Washington and Alaska.

After her acquisition by the BCF, the Pribilof was assigned by the Marine Mammal Resources group, based out of Seattle to support Agency activities in the Pribilof Islands. In addition, like her predecessors, the Pribilof was soon pressed into search and rescue duties. In November 1965, she assisted in the rescue of 37 survivors from the 10,000-ton freighter Oduna, which ran aground on Unimak Island, Alaska.


The extended use of the Pribilof was evaluated around 1968 when the opinion was raised that roughly $100,000 could be saved annually if the vessel's tender duty was taken over by chartered commercial transportation. In response, several essential services were identified that would be "lost to the Program by discontinuance of the Pribilof" – and that during her three to four annual voyages to the Pribilofs the ship also conducted offshore pelagic fur seal research cruises and was relied upon to make numerous important inter-island shuttle trips as necessary to transport:

  •   mail that couldn't be delivered by airdrop (i.e., breakables and outgoing items)
  •   emergency repair equipment and services
  •   perishable goods
  •   teachers and students
  •   doctors (with medicines) and patients to/from PHS hospital in Anchorage
  •   federal officials
  •   cultural and recreational exchange

The response was no doubt effective since the Pribilof remained in service for several more years. In the 1970s, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS, under NOAA) continued using the vessel, homeported in Seattle. In one year (1973), the ship was scheduled for five trips between Seattle and the Bering Sea to supply the Pribilof communities with vital provisions. At this time, the Pribilof's crew and captain consisted of 19 men. On the return trips, the Pribilof hauled sealskins, blubber, frozen seal meat (for food on mink farms), and heavy equipment in need of repair. Note: at this time weekly commercial flights from Anchorage, Alaska, were also transporting mail, medicine and perishable goods to and from St. Paul Island.


Pribilof
The M/V Pribilof.  National Archives and Records Administration - Pacific Alaska Region photo, record group 22, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  NOAA website.
 

In 1975, the NMFS sold the Pribilof to the Aleut Corporation (see "Restoring Control"). The Aleut Corporation then signed a long-term agreement with NMFS to maintain the transportation service between Seattle and Alaska, and continue supplying the government base at Adak in the Aleutians.

Sometime later, the Pribilof underwent conversions and became a fish-processing vessel. She was purchased by Lafayette Fisheries in 1983, and in 2004 was acquired by Trident Seafoods, who (as of 2013) owned and operated the vessel as a fish processor in the Bering Sea.
 

"Aleuts Know Santa is Seagoing Man on Pribilof Trip"
"Seattle, Wash. (UPI) - Generations of kids have known Santa Clause as an air traveler but youngsters on the lonely Pribilof Islands, Santa's own backyard, would scoff at that. They know he comes by boat.

And it's no easy journey for a man of his years. The trip actually starts here in late November when the MV (motor vessel) Pribilof loads up with goods and gifts, bought by catalog.

It's a mean trip in the winter, according to Capt. Fred Langbehm, skipper of the vessel which makes four trips a year to the islands of St. George and St. Paul.

The Pribilof left here for the islands late in November and was expected back by Christmas.

Among the items aboard this trip were fireworks. The inhabitants of the desolate islands set off their fireworks on New Year's Eve since the Fourth of July falls during the long Arctic 'day' when the sun never really sets for months on end."

From Wilmington Morning Star, Wilmington, N.C. Dec. 9, 1965. p. Four-D.  (Google Newspaper Archive)

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