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Alaska Marine Highway System Sells Fast Ferries to Spain for a Loss

Alaska sells fast ferries to Spain at a loss
Fast ferry Fairweather (Alaska Marine Highway)

Published Mar 12, 2021 6:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced that it has finalized the sale of two fast ferries that had once been hailed as the future of the vital Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS). Despite being popular with passengers due to their higher speeds, the ferries had proven unsuccessful and are being sold substantially below the state’s targeted price.

The ro-ro ferries Fairweather and Chenega had been ordered for the AMHS in the early 2000s and built at a cost of $36 million each by Derecktor Shipyards in Bridgeport, Connecticut designed to modernize and upgrade the vital maritime link. The Fairweather entered service in 2004 followed by her sister ship in 2006. Each of the 1,280 gross ton vessels was fitted with four diesel engines and four water jets, which gave them a service speed of 32 knots. The fast speed made it possible to reduce travel times in half versus the older conventional vessels. They measured 235 feet in length and were able to carry up to 210 passengers as well as approximately 30 vehicles.

Despite the vessels’ popularity with passengers, the Alaska Marine Highway encountered problems with the ships including they performed poorly in the rough waters of Alaska. In 2010, one of the vessels also experienced an engine failure. The Chenega was placed in the reserve fleet in 2015 and in 2019, citing rising fuel and operating costs, the AMHS said both ferries were being removed from service and listed as surplus for future sale.

"This sale is a significant milestone in our long-term vision to reshape the Alaska Marine Highway System," said DOT&PF Commissioner John MacKinnon. "Selling the fast ferries is a move to right-size the fleet and lets AMHS redirect funds used for their storage to operations. This moves us toward our goal of a more sustainable and affordable level of service for Alaskans."

The ferries had been offered to other state agencies or Alaska municipalities to be used for transportation purposes. After receiving no interest, they were listed for sale. The State Department of Transportation received one bid for the vessels in January 2021 from a buyer in Spain, Servicios y Concesiones Maritimas Ibicencas, which proposed to use the ferries for service between Spain and the Mediterranean island of Ibiza.

Alaska had set a target price of $10 million for the two ferries that were approximately 15 years old. The Spanish bid however was initially $4.6 million for the two vessels and an additional $411,000 for two diesel engines that were in storage. After additional negotiations, the final sale price for the Chenega was $3.1 million and $2.1 million for the Fairweather, for a total of just under $5.2 million. The proceeds from the sale will be used for future AMHS vessel maintenance and construction. 

The buyer has enlisted a heavy-lift ship to pick up the two ferries in Ketchikan, Alaska, and transport both vessels via the Panama Canal to Spain. With the sale of the two fast ferries, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has a fleet of 10 ferries serving 35 communities. Nicknamed the “blue canoes” the ferries provide a vital link between Alaska communities.