Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Ferry system maintenance delays cause December service gaps


November 15, 2018

The Alaska Marine Highway System’s December ferry schedule has a lot of blank spots as vessel repairs have caused system-wide delays.

The LeConte will be out of service in December as the vessel sits on dry dock over Christmas. No sailings are scheduled for the last four Sundays in December. No Friday sailings are scheduled, and the last two Tuesdays of the month don’t have scheduled sailings either.

The Aurora needed more repairs than expected, “which has created a domino effect in vessel availability,” said Alaska Department of Transportation information officer Aurah Landau.

“The Aurora needed extensive steel replacement in the hull, which requires welders,” Landau said. “That work kept the Aurora in dry dock an extra two weeks, which has bumped overhaul timing and welders needed for completing previously scheduled work on the LeConte, Malaspina and Columbia.”

Alaska Marine Highway System administrators are trying to cover the gap by shifting ferry overhaul schedules and active service, and revised schedules will be announced when the U.S. Coast Guard certifies the vessels for operation.

“AMHS has identified a way to get Christmas travel to the most people possible and is working with the Coast Guard to certify vessels for operation to cover the December service gap,” Landau said. “We have to wait for certification to put out a revised schedule, and are hoping that can happen soon. Complicating the situation is that several vessels are only certified for certain kinds of travel with certain crew members, fit into certain docks, etc. So, the critical date isn’t when the Aurora will be out, but when the certificate of operations is granted for the alternate service plan.”

The Coast Guard certificates are for seasonal operating windows, repair plan approvals, length of run versus daylight hours, crew availability and other details that factor into running vessels according to regulation, Landau said.

Landau said budget cuts and fleet reduction makes it challenging to cover service gaps when unexpected repair work occurs.

Marine highway administrators are pushing to add crew quarters to one of the incoming Alaska Class Ferries that will serve the Upper Lynn Canal next year and redirecting another to Prince William Sound.

The original plan called for one Alaska Class Ferry to sail between Haines and Skagway in a loop and another between Haines and Juneau.

Adding crew quarters to the Hubbard would reduce operating costs and still allow daily service between the three communities, according to marine highway officials. The addition of crew quarters requires approval from the state legislature.


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