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Last operating mainline ferry will remain docked all month after more problems found

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: February 6
  • Published February 6

The Alaska Marine Highway's Matanuska is tied up at the Auke Bay Terminal in Juneau, Alaska, with engine problems on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (Michael Penn)

JUNEAU — The only mainline Alaska ferry scheduled to sail in February will remain out of service the entire month after “new issues” arose, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said Wednesday.

The Matanuska has been sidelined in Juneau for more than two weeks after new propulsion equipment broke down as it sailed from Bellingham, Washington, to Haines.

“We have a 55-year-old ship, and what breaks? The new stuff!” DOT Commissioner John MacKinnon said when asked on the street Wednesday about the Matanuska.

The ship is now scheduled to sail to Ketchikan on its functional engine, where it will receive warranty work from Vigor Industrial. That firm operates both the Ketchikan shipyard and a yard in Portland that installed the troubled equipment.

About 20 passengers had remained aboard the Matanuska since its breakdown. DOT officials had previously said the ship would be repaired by this weekend, and the passengers were waiting to sail on.

Mary Leycom, one of the passengers, said Wednesday that they were told they would need to leave the ship by Friday.

“Terrible! We are stunned after waiting here an entire week," she wrote by text message.

Many of the remaining passengers are soldiers or airmen bound for duty stations in Fairbanks or Anchorage. Air Force and Army public affairs officers said by email Wednesday that all of the service personnel aboard ship are remaining in contact with local sponsors and their chains of command.

“As far as I know the soldiers and families we had (who were) affected, we’re taking care of them,” said Maj. Timothy Chavis of the U.S. Army-Alaska.

“They’re not going to be in trouble. They’re stranded, no fault of their own,” he said.

Of the 11 ships in the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet, only the shuttle ferry Lituya is still sailing. It is limited to the Ketchikan-Metlakatla route.

The day ferry Tazlina is scheduled to begin sailing March 5, according to the state’s online sailing calendar.

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