COVID-19 causes more ferry delays
April 2, 2020
COVID-19 is taking its toll on the state’s newly functioning ferry system.
Decreases in revenue from lost ticket sales could impact Alaska Marine Highway System operations in the coming months, and social-distancing measures designed to slow the spread of the disease will delay the return to service of three vessels: the Columbia, the Kennicott and the Tustumena.
The vessels had been scheduled to resume service in mid-April and early May. In a press release Wednesday, the Department of Transportation announced that while the vessels are on track to finish their scheduled overhaul periods in the shipyard on time, current social-distancing measures prevent crew levels necessary to complete practice drills for requisite safety certifications and prepare the ships for service.
Vessels are tentatively scheduled to resume service in mid-May, according to the department. “All passengers are being notified and rebooked or refunded as necessary.” At press time, DOT had yet to update the online AMHS sailing schedule to reflect these changes.
The department also announced that it is reducing service to Angoon and Hoonah in response to severe travel restrictions imposed by the two communities. Under state health mandates, smaller, more isolated communities can pass more stringent travel bans. Over the weekend, Hoonah’s city council banned all travel to the community and Angoon banned nonresidents from entering and ordered all residents to return home.
AMHS said it would reduce service in these communities to a level necessary “to provide essential grocery deliveries until the public health crisis has abated.”
AMHS has seen an increase in cancellations and a drop in ticket sales in recent weeks. A substantial loss in revenue from a decrease in ticket sales could result in a cash flow problem for the ferry system, which could translate to fewer ships being able to operate in May and June, DOT spokesperson Sam Dapcevich said. The department is monitoring the situation.
“At this time, the Northern Lynn Canal routes are unaffected by this change,” Dapcevich said.
The Alaska Marine Highway has extended its policy waiving cancellation fees for all travelers until May 1.