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

Deckhands prepare to tie-off the Malaspina. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)
Deckhands prepare to tie-off the Malaspina in 2014. In March 2021, the Alaska Department of Transportation suggested scuttling the ferry, which has been out of service since late 2019.  (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

In Monday’s 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.

The Malaspina and its twin the Matanuska are the fleet’s oldest ships, built in the 1960s. The Malaspina has been moored at Ward Cove in Ketchikan since 2019. It costs about $450,000 each year 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 sinking it and creating an artificial reef on the ocean floor.

Rob Carpenter from the Department of Transportation presented this idea to the legislature on Monday.

“Other options we’re considering are scuttling her,” he said. “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.”

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 nearly 60-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 budget plan slashes an additional $7 million dollars from the Alaska Marine Highway System’s budget for 2022. The House Finance Committee disagrees and has suggested keeping the funding similar to the budget for 2021.

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