Ketchikan Shipyard to Build Two Alaska Ferries

Adam Beck and Gov. Sean Parnell sign the contact for Vigor Alaska to build two new state ferries.
Adam Beck and Gov. Sean Parnell sign the contact for Vigor Alaska to build two new state ferries.

It’s official: The Ketchikan Shipyard will build two new ferries for the State of Alaska over the next few years. The deal was announced on a very rainy Saturday during a barbecue at the shipyard’s huge, enclosed ship construction area.

Hundreds of local residents showed up for the hastily arranged barbecue celebration at Vigor Alaska’s shipyard. The agreement between Vigor and the State of Alaska had been finalized just a few days before.

Gov. Sean Parnell was all smiles as he announced the terms of the deal.

“The construction contract to build both ferries in Ketchikan at $101.5 million, the economic and job benefits are going to be felt throughout the community, throughout the region and throughout the state,” he said.

The ferries will be the first Alaska Marine Highway System vessels built in Alaska, and Parnell said that when they’re completed they also will be the largest vessels ever built in the state.

“The ferries will be 280 feet long, seat up to 300 passengers and carry 53 standard vehicles,” he said. “Each ferry will feature bow and stern doors for quicker loading and unloading, fully enclosed car decks, and controllable pitch propellers to maximize maneuverability and efficiency. A modified hull design will greatly improve traveler comfort during rough weather, like today.”

Vigor Alaska President Adam Beck speaks while Vigor CEO Frank Foti and Gov. Sean Parnell listen, seated.
Vigor Alaska President Adam Beck speaks while Vigor CEO Frank Foti and Gov. Sean Parnell listen, seated.

Frank Foti is CEO of Vigor Industrial, which operates the Ketchikan shipyard along with other shipyards on the West Coast. He said this contract will let Ketchikan disprove a few myths about Alaska.

“You can’t build anything here. It’s too far. It’s too hard to get things here. There’s not enough workers here. Workers aren’t qualified here. Wrong, wrong and wrong,” he said. “Because what we’re going to do, we’re going to make some ferries, and on the side of them it’s going to say, ‘Made in Alaska.’”

Vigor Industrial bought out Alaska Ship and Drydock a few years ago to operate the shipyard. Randy Johnson is a former ASD owner who stayed on with Vigor Alaska.

Johnson praised the governor for his tough negotiating skills, and for his commitment to building the ferries in Ketchikan. But Johnson saved his biggest praise for shipyard employees.

“To all the men and women I’ve had the pleasure to work with building this shipyard, you deserve this day,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, you all know that. I’ve got tremendous respect for all of you. It’s a tremendous opportunity and I know these ships that are going to be built in this facility are going to make everyone in this room proud and I’m just happy I was able to have a part in it. Thank you all.”

Following the speeches, Parnell and Vigor Alaska President Adam Beck signed the agreement, with shipyard employees crowded behind to witness the event.

Both of the new vessels will be day boats to serve the Lynn Canal route between Juneau, Haines and Skagway. Beck said the design is somewhat different than the original proposal, which had called for an open car deck.

“I think the public, rightfully so, was very much interested in a closed car deck, given where it was going to operate, and the department listened to the public input, so now we’re building a fully enclosed car deck with a drive through,” he said.

Despite that addition, value engineering elsewhere kept the contract under the state’s $120 million limit. Beck said the ships will be no-frills vessels that will get the job done.

“It’s going to be day boats that are going to carry people and cars and get you from point A to Point B,” he said. “I think that’s what the state needs, and we’ll be able to build them within budget.”

Saturday’s announcement wasn’t unexpected. Vigor has been working with the state on designing the two day boats, and through that agreement had first dibs on the contract to build the vessels.

The multi-million-dollar ferry contract calls for delivery of the two vessels by 2018.