After four breakdowns of the state ferry Matanuska in a little over two months, the Department of Transportation is considering its options to ensure more reliable service as the heavier summer travel season approaches.

“In light of the mechanical issues on the Matanuska, we are evaluating and considering alternatives to improve system reliability,” department spokesman Sam Dapcevich said April 29.

The department provided no further information. “Will get back to you on this question,” Dapcevich said.

The Alaska Marine Highway System’s five operating vessels are busy with their own routes, and none of the three ferries in layup (to save money) or overhaul status could be pressed into immediate service.

The Matanuska was scheduled to resume work Wednesday, departing Bellingham, Washington, for stops in Southeast after missing more than a week of port calls due to its fourth mechanical breakdown since February. If it stays on schedule, it would stop in Wrangell northbound early Friday evening.

The 58-year-old ship was held out of service the last week of April at the dock in Ketchikan after waiting on a replacement part for its starboard engine. After the repair, the Matanuska left Ketchikan last Friday, but only for some of its regularly scheduled port calls through Southeast so that it could leave early and head south to Bellingham for additional repairs to get back on schedule this week.

“A ferry system built on a single point of failure is doomed,” Juneau Sen. Jesse Kiehl said last Friday. “Especially if it’s older than I am,” the 45-year-old senator said.

The Kennicott and LeConte stepped in to help cover for the Matanuska’s absence.

The end-of-April ailments included replacement of the lube-oil cooler on the starboard engine, Dapcevich said. Shipping delays with the replacement part held up the Matanuska’s departure from Ketchikan.

A lube-oil cooler is similar to a car radiator, to cool down the gallons of lubricating oil that flow through the engine.

The repair work in Bellingham focused on the “power packs.” Each engine has 16 of the units, which consist of a head, a liner and piston all in one unit that weighs about 3,000 pounds. “Additional warranty repairs are needed for the engines’ power packs, and technicians will perform that work in Bellingham,” Dapcevich said April 29.

The ship’s two main engines were replaced during a $47 million rebuild project in 2018-2019 at the Vigor shipyard in Portland. The state has had continuing problems with the engines, which the department has said are covered by warranty.

An earlier failure aboard the Matanuska this year was due to an electrical problem with its controllable-pitch propeller, Dapcevich said. The system allows the ship better maneuverability, such as when it is docking.

The department had not responded as of Tuesday this week with a breakdown of repair costs covered by warranty or the state’s out-of-pocket expenses since the ship came back to service in 2019 after its rebuild. The Matanuska missed several months of work in 2020 due to other engine problems.