EX Army FS Snowbird and The Aleutian Freighters

Was that the old Snowbird, the converted FS?

Yes, an old FS. Two Cats. She could do 14 kts. When we pushed the Sea on the hip out to the trawler the captain said that was the fastest he’d ever gone on that ship.

Aren’t most of the fish carriers converted WW2 Army/Navy vessels still??

I’m going to have to dig deep in old photos but I remember visiting it several times in Seattle during some conversion work at Marco and then much later in San Diego where it was berthed after a fire onboard. I believe it was scrapped after that. Do you know what became of it?

They had a movie poster for “Mr. Roberts” in the galley. The story (as much denied by some as claimed by others) that the boat was the one used in the movie.

It was named Whitebird at the time in Seattle, I mistakenly wrote Snowbird in my question to you.

It is (or was until fairly recently at least) a very “colorful” trade with some very vintage vessels converted to all sorts of uses.

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The ships / boats working in Alaska were an assortment like Steamer said.

We didn’t typically go alongside “fish carriers”, usually catcher processors or the big trawlers, both U.S. and foreign.

Here’s a photo of us along side a Russian:


Same ship but a photo from their deck from when I went aboard the Russian for paperwork.


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I don’t know what became of her. I heard it was converted to something fisheries related but I don’t recall what. Maybe processing?

When I saw it at Marco they were adding extra freezing capacity and some kind of fish handling stuff for the SoPac tuna fishery. It still had all the same deck stuff on when I saw it in San Diego maybe 10 years ago and the crewman I spoke to said they had a fire onboard and hoped to return it to service but it didn’t look like it would ever work again. The whole thing didn’t quite smell right if you get my drift.

Mentioned it on this thread which was an off-shoot the great anemometer discussion.

Depends on what you mean by “fish carrier”. The term is not used in Alaska. Vessels like the Coastal Sea and Snowbird were fish tenders. Technically, Aleutian fish tenders, as classified by the CFRs. There is only one company operating Aleutian fish tenders now: Coastal Transportation, down from about five companies in the 1980s.

None of CTIs vessels are WW2 vintage. The last it operated was sold about ten years ago.

Trident Seafoods operates two vessels that were once classified as Aleutian fish tenders. But they carry cargo specifically for that company. My guess is they are now classed simply as fish tenders, but I may be wrong. Maybe someone from Trident will chip in. To be an Aleutian fish tender, as defined by CFR, the company must be a common carrier.

They actually own three, the Sea Trader, Eastern Wind, and the Dolphin. I believe the Sea Trader and Eastern Wind are no longer classed as Aleutian Fish Tenders. The Dolphin was converted to an RSW fish tender and no longer carries cargo, other than a little on deck.

Your terminology might be a little confusing to some people given that a ‘fish tender’ is generally a term used for a vessel hauling fish in RSW, as opposed to the ‘Aleutian Fish Tender’ wording found in the CFRs that refer to your companies vessels (and previously others).

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It is certainly confusing to most people. Fish Tenders are different from Aleutian Fish Tenders by some terms in CFR. (??)
If they carry the fish in RSW tanks, or alive, they are (apparently) none of the above (??)

If you carry fish by whatever method you are a “Fish Carrier”.in my book.

PS> Of course a container ship that carry fish in freezer containers across oceans is still a container ship.

PPS> A Reefer ship remains the same if it carries fish, fruit or meat.

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All these ships mentioned are capable of keeping the cargo frozen. I never heard anyone call them reefer ships though technically they are.

Northbound it was breakbulk supplies for the fisheries. Southbound most of the cargo was frozen crab. From the trawlers bottom fish of course but received and carried fully processed and frozen.

I don’t think anyone ever called it fish for that matter. It was always called “product” as I recall.

I think "fish tender was the legal name. As long as the ships were serving the fisheries and under 500 tons IIRC they were exempt from inspection. That is to say they were uninspected.

Had an uncle that was Master of the Oregon for NOAA. His job was to find the King crab bio mass and Herring etc… saw her in Anacortes last week as a fish tender. After that he ran the Aleutian Dragon for years. I remember she had so much processing gear and pumps etc. that her decks were a mess.
After my dad’s heart attack he quit the deep sea tugs and ran the Ocean Maid for Kadiak fisheries in Kodiak. She was some kind of ex military ship and somebody had put a tow winch on her short stern deck. Not good for pulling surge gear!. The owners needed a processing barge towed to Kodiak and were going to hire Foss for big bucks. He told them he would tow it with the Ocean Maid as she was heading North for fish anyway… Saved the company a lot of money. Dad had an old easy chair that he cut the legs off and we wrestled into the pilot house. He said it was the slowest trip across the Gulf he ever made. 3.5 knots I think. This was mid 60’s. She is moored on the Snohomish river in Everett now.
Not sure if she was an FS.

Nice history.

“Carrier” is an New England and Canadian Maritimes term, as in “sardine carrier.” In Alaska they have “tenders” as in “salmon tenders” which buy the daily catch of salmon from the fishermen.

For many years these freighters like the Western Pioneer fleet were outlaw freighters half-covered by the thin fig leaf of supposedly being “tenders” which in theory made them “uninspected fishing vessels,” rather than freighters subject to inspection. When the USCG finally started clamping down on this, Max Soriano (a well connected Seattle lawyer that owned Western Pioneer) got the Aleutian Trade Act passed, which by Congressional fiat legalized these outlaw unispected freighters as “unispected fishing vessels.”

Fishing vessels under 5000 GRT are uninspected, STCW exempt, and Class exempt vessels. There are special national licenses for the ”fishermen” officers on these fishing vessels. Although as a practical matter today, these licenses are not easy to get, and the officers than have these licenses are typically very capable Mariners.

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If you working in Alaska they were referred to as “freighters”. To the world outside Alaska they are known as “Aleutian Freighters” .

I see this book on Amazon. Might buy it later.

Unique among U.S. maritime cargo operations, the Aleutian trade is and has always been carried on by small break-bulk cargo vessels, through severe weather, and a grueling schedule; not an industry for the weak, timid, or foolhardy. Contained in these pages is a history of the Aleutian trade, from the sailing vessels of the 19th century that transported salted cod, to the mailboats that for decades provided the region s only scheduled communication with the outside world, to the make-do, rough-and-tumble, seafood-driven fleet expansion of the 1980s, to the small but capable fleet of today. It is a history of small ships and the people who owned and operated them, set in a severe and unforgiving environment, and framed by an evolving marine resource-based economy.

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Wow K.C., I’m not so sure that steaming around the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian chain on that puddle hopper would be much fun. It doesn’t look like it would take that much to send those 40’ containers adrift. Oh well, when you need a job, you need a job.

The book is the story of how the Strong Family built Coastal Transportation.

The build-up to the 1980’s is a collection of anecdotes about the small mail freighters that used their mail subsidy to start shipping businesses.

The pace picks up with the race between Pioneer, Sunmar and Coastal. Sunmar’s struggles and Pioneer’s family politics contrast to the firm leadership and cleverness of Coastal.

Today, only Coastal remains. So far I haven’t found any other book describing their rise. History in the Aleautians might be written by the victors, but we’re lucky it was written at all.


It’s true they were not very big, 177 feet (54 meters). It looks even smaller from the deck of that ship.

Here’s a photo of her alongside in Dutch.

The containers weren’t going anywhere, they were welded to the deck.

Here’s the cook and deckhand on deck.

Being at sea was the good part of the job. Loading the ship meant every box had to moved by hand. We’d usually get a couple guys from shoreside but it was mostly done by the crew.