Ferry Emergency: Six of the state’s 11 ferries are out of service

Department of Transportation announces the Aurora is heading for layup

Clarification: There are six vessels in layup rather than long-term layup. This article has been updated to reflect that information.

Yet another ferry will be in long-term layup as of early next year.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said Thursday in a release employees of the M/V Aurora were notified that they will be out of service as of Jan. 14. Approximately 24 employees will be impacted.

In November, the department announced both the LeConte and Aurora would require “extensive steel replacement” following inspections. Those repairs would exceed the amount budgeted, and the Alaska Marine Highway System does not have the funds required to repair both vessels, the DOT says, so both vessels will be pulled from service.

Estimates for the LeConte repairs are $5.2 million total. In October, $1.2 million was spent on the ship’s annual overhaul, according to DOT, that leaves $4 million in future repairs.

Plans are for the LeConte to return to service May 15, according to DOT. The Aurora is being prepared for long-term layup in Ward Cove in Ketchikan, and a return-to-service date was not included in a department release.

[Ferry service canceled after repair costs run high]

“Long-term layup means we don’t have short-term plans for it,” said Sam Dapcevich, public information officer for AMHS and DOT Southcoast Region, in an interview.

Dapcevich said the future of vessels in long-term layup will be more clear following completion and review of a restructuring plan.

“Decisions will be made based off of that,” he said.

There have been a spate of vessels placed on mothballs in recent months.

“You can basically trace it back to budget,” Dapcevich said. “We just have such a reduced budget.”

He said the DOT is working as best as it can with the budget approved by the Legislature and governor.

In October, it was announced the M/V Malaspina was also being pulled from service because it faced $16 million in repairs. In June, it was reported the M/V Columbia would not sail past Sept. 4.

The M/V Fairweather and M/V Chenega are also in long-term layup and will not receive annual overhauls, according to the DOT.

That brings the total of vessels in layup to six. There are 11 ferries total in the Alaska Marine Highway System.

“Most of our vessels are in Ketchikan right now,” Dapcevich said.

AMHS headquarters is located in Ketchikan, and Dapcevich said vessels can be moored in Ward Cove.

“At this time, the Matanuska, the Tazlina and the Lituya are operating in Southeast,” Dapcevich said.

Dapcevich said both Pelican and Tenakee will likely be without ferry service during the rest of the winter schedule since neither community can be serviced by the M/V Tazlina, which is filling in for the Aurora and LeConte, which usually make stops in northern Southeast Alaska.

“They’ll probably be hit the hardest in Southeast,” he said.

Reduced ferry service has still resulted in complications throughout Southeast, including challenges in transporting human remains, groceries and machinery, and made it more difficult for people to travel to medical appointments.

[Communities feel the hurt with no ferry service]

Wednesday, the DOT announced the M/V Matanuska added a northbound stop for Kake on Dec. 13 at 9 p.m. The return trip departs Juneau Dec. 15 at 4:45 a.m. and arrives at Kake at 11:45 p.m that day.

Those additional stops required additional adjustments to the Matanuska’s schedule, and people are encouraged to check the AMHS service notices page for more information.

The vessels

• The M/V Malaspina was pulled from service because it faced $16 million in repairs.

• In June, it was reported the M/V Columbia would not sail past Sept. 4.

• The M/V Chenega is in long-term layup, according to a November release from DOT.

• The M/V Fairweather is in long-term layup, according to the same release.

• Employees of the Aurora were notified they would be out of service as of Jan. 14.

• The LeConte will require “extensive” repairs, according to DOT, and it is planned to return to service in May.

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt