The M/V Tustumena comes into Homer after spending the day in Seldovia in this 2010 file photo. After almost a year of undergoing repairs, the much loved ferry returned to service this week.-Homer News file photo

The M/V Tustumena comes into Homer after spending the day in Seldovia in this 2010 file photo. After almost a year of undergoing repairs, the much loved ferry returned to service this week.-Homer News file photo

Finally, Tustumena returns to service

By McKibben Jackinsky

Staff writer

After a much longer-than-expected absence, the M/V Tustumena was back on its route Sunday, providing service through the fall and winter to Homer, Seldovia, Port Lions, Ouzinkie and Kodiak, according to a press release issued by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The 296-foot vessel, built in 1964, will resume twice-per-month service to the Aleutian Chain in the spring. It has a 174-passenger capacity and is able to haul 36 vehicles and 12 vans.

“The Tustumena is in the best shape that it has been for many years and will be very capable of providing safe and reliable service to the communities of Southwest Alaska and the Aleutian Chain,” said Capt. John Falvey, general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The ship’s absence created a hardship for Seldovia, a community of about 500 residents accessible only by air or water.

“We’re just happy that its back in the water and can transport people and supplies safely,” said Seldovia City Manager Tim Dillon. “This isn’t the answer, though. We need to look at it long-term. We just got done celebrating 50 years of ferry service. We need to look at the next 50 years and make adjustments necessary to continue going in the right direction with the ferry system.”

A barge helped transport freight between Seldovia and Homer during the Tustumena’s absence. The Seldovia Bay Ferry’s Kachemak Voyager, an 83-foot, 150-passenger vessel owned by Seldovia Village Tribe that offers summertime transportation for people and light freight between Homer and Seldovia, extended its season to help fill the gap.  It wrapped up its service for the year with a “Local’s Day” on Oct. 18.

“This is certainly a welcome relief. It’s our highway, our connection to Homer and a critical link for businesses and residents here,” said Ian McGaughey, public affairs spokesperson for Seldovia Village Tribe and president of the Seldovia Chamber of Commerce. “We’re very, very happy to have it back. It’s been a trying experience for everyone. (DOT&PF) Commissioner Pat Kemp and his team were dedicated to returning a safe ship back to service and that’s what they did.”

The Tustumena began a capital improvement project at the Seward Shipyard on Nov. 1, 2012, with a scheduled return-to-service date of April 17.

“Due, in part, to unexpected discovery items, specifically steel work, two project extensions were conveyed to the Seward Shipyard,” according to a press released issued by DOT&PF on Monday. “Further delays ensued at the shipyard and the vessel’s return to service was postponed indefinitely until the necessary repairs could be completed and met U.S. Coast Guard regulations.”

The repairs make it possible for the ship to continue serving Alaska’s southcentral and southwest communities while the design and construction of a replacement vessel takes place.

Reservations on the Tustumena can be made in advance online at FerryAlaska.com, by calling 1-800-642-0066 or by terminal staff. Advance reservations help guarantee available space for passengers and vehicles. 

Fare information is available online or from reservation agents.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

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