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In an effort to save money, the Alaska Marine Highway considers sinking one of its oldest ferries

Apr 1, 2021

The Malaspina docked in Juneau in 2013. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

In a  House Finance Committee meeting at the state capitol in Juneau, a Department of Transportation official suggested some cost-saving measures, including ridding the fleet of one of its unused vessels, the MV Malaspina.

It’s one of the fleet’s oldest ships, built in the 1960s, and it has been moored at Ward Cove in Ketchikan since 2019.  It costs about $450,000 annually just to store the ship. 

The state is currently considering a variety of options to remove that red line from its budget.  They’ve looked into selling the ferry, but there’s an overabundance of decommissioned cruise ships available, so there’s very little interest in the open market. That leaves selling the boat for scrap metal or just sinking it. 

Rob Carpenter from the Department of Transportation presented this idea to the Legislature.

“Other options we’re considering are scuttling her, we’re talking to the EPA on that option of cleaning her up, taking all the asbestos, etc, off, and then creating a reef somewhere,” said Carpenter.

That plan would cost somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million.  But compare that to the estimated $16 million it would cost to repair the 50-plus-year-old ship.

Recent mechanical issues sidelined the Matanuska earlier this month forcing Skagway and Haines to charter a private vessel to transport passengers from Juneau while leaving their vehicles behind.  With fewer boats in the water these days, every breakdown taxes an already stressed ferry system. 

Earlier this month the state sold off two of its fast ferries the Fairweather and the Chenega for $5.1 million.  Those boats were originally purchased for $68 million.  This leaves the Alaska Marine Highway with a fleet of 10 ships serving the entirety of coastal Alaska.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed plan slashes an additional $7 million from the Marine Highway System budget for 2022.  The House Finance Committee disagrees and has suggested keeping the funding similar to the budget for 2021.