Ferry Tustumena repairs slower than expected

KODIAK (AP) — The Alaska Marine Highway System confirmed that the ferry Tustumena will be in a Seward shipyard two months longer than scheduled, a delay that will affect southwest Alaska's ferry schedule.

The 50-year-old ship went in for maintenance in November, and it turned out to be in worse shape than thought. It will now be in the shipyard until June, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported.

The 13-year-old ferry Kennicott will pick up the Tustumena's trips to Kodiak, but it's too large to visit many of the Aleutian Chain ports. The ferry system said in a statement that the Kennicott won't be able to sail in relief to Akutan, False Pass, Chignik, Ouzinkie, Old Harbor and Port Lions.

"It's unfortunate that the Tustumena will be delayed providing service to the chain this spring," said John Falvey, general manager for the Alaska Marine Highway System. "Our staff will do the best we can to accommodate affected travelers, communities and businesses."

When the Tustumena entered the shipyard in November for long-term maintenance, ferry service ended in rural Kodiak and in smaller communities along the Alaska Peninsula.

The Aleutian Chain route, which sends the Tustumena to Dutch Harbor on a regular basis, generally shuts down during the winter, and the shipyard layup was intended to take advantage of that window.

But exploratory work revealed extensive deterioration to the ship's steel, which must be repaired before it returns to service.

Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the marine highway system, said ferry workers have shifted early-summer reservations from the Tustumena to the Kennicott, which has twice the capacity.

The Kennicott will perform one Chain run in April, one in May, and a third scheduled run has been dropped.

The Aleutian Chain route is more than 650 miles long, and sending the Kennicott to Dutch Harbor means that it will spend less time on the route from Bellingham, Wash., to Whittier.

"That really serves as the highway to get people into Anchorage," Woodrow said.

To minimize disruptions, the marine highway has worked out a tentative system in which the Kennicott and Columbia will split the trip between Bellingham and Whittier. Passengers will switch ships in Juneau, meaning less transit time for each ship — albeit at the cost of inconvenience.

02/25/2013 - 6:20am