Company History

A Steamship Company is Born

TOTE's first steamship.

The history of Totem Ocean Trailer Express (Totem Ocean) begins with the oil development of Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. In 1975 Sun Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania embarked on a RO/RO steamship venture in Seattle, Washington. On September 10, 1975 the S. S. Great Land, a Ponce Class vessel, sailed its maiden voyage from Pier 37 in Seattle, headed north to Anchorage, Alaska.

Addition to the Fleet

TOTE ship pulled by tugboat.

The company grew quickly and in June 1976 Totem Ocean moved to the Port of Tacoma, Washington. In May 1977 the fleet size doubled with the addition of a new Ponce Class steamship, the S. S. Westward Venture.


New Ownership

In October 1982, Totem Ocean was purchased from Sun Company by Totem Resources Corporation (now known as Saltchuk Resources), a venture of Northwest businessmen headed by then-Totem Ocean President & CEO, Robert B. McMillen.

Continued Growth

Totem Ocean moved to a yet larger $10 million facility on the Blair Waterway in Tacoma in July 1984. A third ship, the S. S. Northern Lights was refurbished, stretched and added to the fleet in July 1993. As demand for capacity grew, an unprecedented third sailing every week was added in 1994, encompassing most months of the year by 2000.

The years 1995 to 1997 saw Totem Ocean embark on several new ventures, including a dedicated feeder service from Whittier to Cordova, Alaska, and the charter of the S. S. Westward Venture to the Black Sea in Russia, loaded with farm tractors and cultivators.

In 1999 Totem Ocean earned ISO 9002 certification for the transport of newly manufactured vehicles.

Committing to Alaska's Future

Orcas class vessel under construction.

Totem Ocean made the significant decision to design and construct new ships in early 1999. A major effort began to choose a ship builder for these newly designed vessels.

From 1996 to 1999, Totem Ocean participated in a Maritech project with National Steel Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) of San Diego, California, to define the requirements for new ships. In December 1999, Totem Ocean entered into an agreement with NASSCO to build two diesel-electric Ro/Ro vessels entering Alaska service in 2003.

Major Changes

In 2002 Totem Ocean moved its corporate headquarters from its longtime location in downtown Seattle, Washington to a new facility in Federal Way, Washington.

On August 3 2002, Totem Ocean christened the first of two vessels in the new Orca Class, the M.V. Midnight Sun, and also began a massive restructuring and expansion of the terminal facilities at both the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Anchorage.

2003 - A Year of Action

MV North Star under way.

Operation Enduring/Iraqi Freedom brought with it a request from the United States Military Sealift Command to charter the S.S. Northern Lights to ship Marine Corps rolling stock, assist with the return of war equipment to the United States, and carry materials for rebuilding Iraq. Totem Ocean is proud of the merchant mariners who participated, and is grateful to our customers for their patience and support during this time of national need.

In April 2003, Totem Ocean went live with its new Trailer Operating System, complete with advanced gate facilities and technology. April also marked the M.V. Midnight Sun's entrance into the Alaska service.

The second Orca Class vessel, the M.V. North Star , was christened in June 2003 and entered the trade late August.