State Seeks Backup Options for M/V Tustumena

The Tustumena. (Photo by Kenneth Gill/Flickr Creative Commons)

In less than six weeks, the Tustumena ferry is supposed to wrap up repairs and set sail to southwest Alaska. But the shipyard says that delivery date isn’t looking realistic.

As the state faces yet another blown deadline for getting the Tustumena back in service, they’ve started looking for other ships to pick up the ferry’s route. And it doesn’t have to be a perfect fit.

Seward Ship’s Drydock has been working on the Tustumena for seven months now. At every turn, they’ve uncovered previously unknown problems — with the steelwork, the computer systems, and now, the propulsion controls.

The shipyard’s general manager, Pinkney Cunningham, wouldn’t talk about the Tustumena on tape. But he says his crews are still finding new work to do on the ferry.

Cunningham knows the Tustumena is scheduled to go back into service July 7. When asked if that’s realistic, he says, “It might be a stretch.”

The Department of Transportation says they’re still counting on the Tustumena for July sailings. But just in case, they’ve put out what’s called a “request for information” for vessels that could fill in this summer. They want anyone who has a Coast Guard-certified ship that can carry at least three cars and six people, to get in touch.

DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the request for alternate vessels isn’t a judgment on whether the Tusty will be ready on time. He describes it as a response to lobbying from a port community.

“The work, right now, is continuing to progress. But the city of Kodiak Chamber of Commerce actually sent a letter to the marine highway system requesting that we find an alternative, just in case we aren’t able to return to service as expected.”

Trevor Brown runs the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. He says he was pleasantly surprised to find that the state did what the Chamber asked.

“Kodiak Chamber does applaud the Alaska Marine Highway [System] for taking steps to identify some alternative transportation services to – it looks like just for Kodiak, and Kodiak communities.”

Brown is right. The DOT put down Kodiak, Old Harbor, Ouzinkie, Port Lions, and then Homer as required ports of call.

That leaves out a major part of the Tusty’s route — the Aleutian Chain. Woodrow says it’s not included because it will be hard enough to find a vessel that can serve Kodiak.

“We figured we would try to at least see what’s out there for Kodiak, and then see if that can be applied to the chain communities.”

Brown, with the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, says they never intended to leave anyone out.

“We don’t want to eliminate any of the chain runs. Everybody out to the west of us — we’re all kind of in the same boat on this one.”

The DOT’s request for other vessels to serve the route is open through June 5.

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