May 2 Homer to Kodiak marine highway sailing canceled

A new departure date is not rescheduled yet

The Alaska Marine Highway System has canceled the May 2 scheduled trip on the MV Tustumena from Homer to Kodiak due to unfinished repairs on the vessel currently hauled out at the JAG shipyard in Seward. Sam Dapcevich, public information officer for the Southcoast region and AMHS, located in Juneau, provided more details.

“The Tustumena has been out of the water for a little longer than four months. A typical shipyard session is two months but there was a little more extensive work to do this time. We always schedule in a buffer because we know that there will be more than we’re planning to fix when working on a vessel,” Dapcevich said.

“There are some propeller shafts that come out and go into a strut that has bearing in it to keep everything aligned and during the overhaul process, they identified some wasted steel of strut that had to be taken care of. Everything that we do has to get inspected by the Coast Guard or the ABS, the American Bureau of Shipping, and so we have to coordinate with them to approve the repairs that are made. So, between the added work and the inspections, the ship is now planning to come out of the ship yard on May 9,” Dapcevich said.

According to Dapcevich, the AMHS is in a stabilization phase which he explained means that the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities are in the process of creating a long range plan, “Charting the Course, Reimaging the AMHS,” for the system that was launched in October of 2022. They have had problems with crew shortage and and many of the vessels in the system are quite old and that often increases the stay time in the shipyard, Dapcevich said. According to the Alaska Department of Transportation website, the MV Tustumena was built in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and is a 60-year-old vessel. More information on “Charting the Course” can be found at

“When we find unexpected tasks in the shipyard, we call it ‘discovery work’, because it’s additional issues that the yard crew finds on the way,” Dapcevich said.

In the past, when extended work has happened, the AMHS might have been able to use another vessel but the only other vessels in the system that can operate in unprotected waters of the Gulf of Alaska are the MV Kennicott and MV Columbia, Dapcevich said.

But the Kennicott is fully on Southeast duty because the Columbia is also out of the water for repairs and is not scheduled to relaunch until May 7.

“Right now with a limited number of fleet and crew, we just don’t have a deep bench; there’s just not much we can do in this case,” Dapcevich said. “We are always as apologetic as we can be when things like this happen. We try to help our passengers and customers find another way if we can move them to another sailing or provide refund. It’s just an unfortunate that we’re dealing with these aged vessels and a national maritime crew shortage. We’re doing everything we can to stabilize the system and improve things for the future,” Dapcevich said.

The Seward shipyard typically services the Tustumena and the Aurora because those ships operate closer to Southcental Alaska. The Aurora’s primary ports are in Prince William Sound, Dapcevich said. The Southeast ships use a shipyard in Ketchikan but may also go down to Seattle or Portland, Oregon, he said. There are a total of nine ships in the marine highway system.

The AMHS services 16 ports in Southeast Alaska as well as Bellingham, Washington, but Dapcevich noted a particularly unique situation with the ferry terminal in Yakutat, which has not been receiving service recently.

“Yakutat is an interesting one of our port locations,” Dapcevich said. “Historically, up until the Kennicott was launched in 1998, Yakutat didn’t have service at all. The Kennicott was built with funding from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, so it was a special one-off vessel and because it had the capability to do cross-Gulf service, we added stops in Yakutat. So they have received service for the past 20 years or so, but because the Columbia is offline for repairs, the Kennicott is not making cross-Gulf runs now.”

Dapcevich said if and when the AMHS can increase vessels and crew, they may reinstitute the stop in Yakutat.

Crew for the marine highway system are trained in Ketchikan and onboard the vessels.

“Many of our deck officers, though, do attend maritime academies before they come to work for AMHS. There are also people on the ships who start out as a service-person but accumulate enough sea time to earn certificates over the year. We have people who have started out in an entry-level job and worked their way up to a deck officer position,” Dapcevich said.

There are seven communities serviced in Southcentral Alaska and 11 in the Southwest. More information on fleets, ports and bookings can be found at