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Career mariner Art Dahlin was named General Manager of Foss’s Columbia Snake River region – and the Fleet Monitoring Center – in 2018.

By Hilary Reeves

Foss Martime’s Fleet Monitoring Center (FMC) debuted to much fanfare on June 1, 2016 after a renovation of the company’s Portland, Oregon terminal and dispatch center along the banks of the Willamette River made it possible to monitor Foss tugs, as well as the maritime fleets of sister companies TOTE Services and Tropical Shipping, in real time.

In 2018, Art Dahlin was named General Manager of the Foss’s Columbia Snake River region – and the FMC.

 “The FMC has changed quite a bit,” he said. “Not only were dispatching services changed from regional to centralized, but there was also a significant amount of training that needed to take place. We formed an FMC Governance Team with representatives from Foss, TOTE, Tropical, and Saltchuk. After three years of consolidation, we’re at a great place to take our services to the next level.”

Rather than grappling with the arduous (and maybe impossible) task of leveling the nuances of each region and business unit, Dahlin said the FMC’s Governance Team has instead focused on standardizing processes to improve levels of cross-training and gain efficiencies, allowing the individual companies to reap the benefits of consolidation.

“Standardization will allow us to scale based on what is best for each company,” he said. “While I was sailing, I wouldn’t have thought I would be lucky enough to be a part of such a variety of exciting projects and roles at Foss and beyond.”

The Fleet Monitoring Center

On June 1, 2016 Foss Maritime opened its Fleet Monitoring Center (FMC) to support its international fleet of tugs and marine assets, as well as the maritime fleets of sister companies TOTE Services and Tropical Shipping.

FMC staff, called “watchstanders,” man the FMC 24/7 to ensure any incoming phone calls – including those from mariners – are answered. In case of an emergency, they directly connect incoming calls to designed shoreside personnel. Additionally, watchstanders monitor global weather conditions and vessel assets and their projected tracks, assisting in ship re-routing in cases of extreme weather – all to support safety and enhance situational awareness for Saltchuk companies’ employees and assets around the globe.

The Intercoastal waterway

Dahlin grew up in Lakewood, Colorado, just west of Denver. He and his sister attended many U.S. Air Force Academy events and football games as children.

“My parents were big proponents of the service academies,” he said. “My sister ended up going into the Air Force Academy and became a C130 pilot. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point recruited me to play football. I took a trip to the academy and immediately knew I wanted to go there. Coming from a land-locked state, I didn’t have any exposure to the merchant marine, but I was excited to take the opportunity and learn something new. I looked at it as an adventure.”

Dahlin graduated, and his first post-college job was for Kirby Inland Marine, based in Houston. He spent the next year as a “steersman” learning the deck and earning his towing endorsement. He then spent four years sailing as Pilot and Relief Captain.

“I sailed blue water ships as a cadet at Kings Point, so smaller, inland boats were new to me,” he said. “I enjoyed learning the Mississippi River system and the Intracoastal Waterway on the Gulf Coast. I spent the majority of my time between Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Houston on the Intracoastal Waterway and Houston Ship Channel, and in Galveston Bay running a bunker boat.”

Dahlin is seen smiling while interacting with students.
Art Dahlin mentoring students from Alaska’s Coastal Villages Region Fund’s “Ciuneq” Education Pathways program at Foss’s Seattle headquarters in October of last year.

Collaboration and grit

After five years with Kirby, Dahlin said he decided to transition shoreside. His wife was working for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, west of Seattle, and Dahlin enrolled in the University of Washington Foster School of Business Evening MBA program to help with his transition. While enrolled in the program, he joined Saltchuk as a Senior Financial Analyst. He spent two years in the role before transitioning into a position at Foss Maritime.

“At the time, Foss had a pipeline of large-scale projects for companies like Shell, Fluor, and Worley Parsons, among others,” he said. “I came over to Foss as a Project Manager to help out with the various projects going on, including the Shell Arctic Venture and the Point Thomson Sealift, and I ultimately led the Odoptu project in Sakhalin Island, Russia. I was immediately impressed with the collaborative and gritty nature of Foss personnel. Whether shoreside or on the boats, the group was solutions-oriented and overcame a staggering number of obstacles to complete each project.”

A nimble organization

A year into his position in the Columbia Snake River region, Dahlin said he’s enjoying exploring Oregon with his family.

“It’s pretty awesome to have wine country, the coast, and the Gorge within a couple of hours,” he said. “Before I worked here, I assumed Foss was simply a ship-assist provider on the West Coast. I had no idea how many services Foss provided. The FMC was another in a long line. And we keep getting better.”

Dahlin said he believes the rate at which technology and the markets Foss serves will continue to change at a rapid pace.

“Looking to the future of the FMC and of Foss in general, we’ll need to continue as a nimble organization that can pivot as our customers’ needs change. This includes the way we operate our boats to the way we dispatch tugs.”

Read an earlier People of Saltchuk profile of Chris Wolf who previously led the FMC, published in 2017.

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.