Former Alaska state ferries expected to head for Spain

The Red Zed 1 sits at anchor outside Ketchikan’s Ward Cove on June 13. The Fairweather and Chenega ferries are scheduled to be towed out of the cove and loaded Friday morning.(Eric Stone/KRBD)

The Alaska Marine Highway’s two former fast ferries are tentatively scheduled to be loaded Friday onto a heavy-lift ship headed for Spain.

The catamarans — Fairweather and Chenega — were recently sold for about $5 million to a Spanish ferry company and are being shipped via the Panama Canal. The hulking, U-shaped vessel Red Zed 1 has been anchored outside of Ketchikan’s Ward Cove since early April.

The Ward Cove Group’s Stephen Bradford says the captain of the Red Zed has said the ship will start to lower itself into the Tongass Narrows around 1 a.m. Friday. The two ferries are scheduled to be towed out of the cove and loaded between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. They’re expected to depart the Ketchikan area shortly afterward. But that schedule could change, Bradford said.

The 235-foot Fairweather and Chenega cost the state $68 million to build and came into service in 2004 and 2005, respectively. The catamarans cruised at roughly double the speed of other state ferries — about 35 miles per hour — and were popular with passengers.

But the ferries’ 19,310-horsepower engines guzzled 600 gallons of marine diesel per hour, and that made them expensive to operate. They also struggled in rough seas.

The state took the Chenega out of service in 2015. The Fairweather followed in 2019.

With no interest from state agencies or municipalities, the state put them out for auction in January. It got just one bid — from Spanish ferry operator Trasmapi — and closed the $5.1 million sale in March.

In their new home across the Atlantic, the fast ferries are expected to take passengers to and from the Spanish island of Ibiza, a popular Mediterranean tourist destination.

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