M/V Susitna Racks Up As Much As $1M in Rain Damage

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s would-be ferry, M/V Susitna, has suffered expensive damage, and now the Borough estimates repairs could cost as much as $1 million. The Borough has been trying to sell the vessel for years, and is negotiating with the Federal Transit Administration on the repayment of a $12 million grant.

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According to the Mat-Su Borough’s Port Director, Marc Van Dongen, rainwater has damaged three of the ferry Susitna’s four engines where it is currently being stored, in Ketchikan. The damage was discovered in February, and seems to have occurred during particularly heavy rains in late January.

“It was over 5 1/2 inches in one day. And apparently some of that rain went into the exhaust, manifold of the vessel. It went through the exhaust stack down into the manifold, and water went into the cylinders and into three of the four engines.”

When the crew tried to start the Susitna for the regular exercising of the vessel in February, those three engines failed.

The ship has been docked in Ketchikan since 2011, at a cost of 30 thousand dollars a month. Van Dongen was not specific as to why water was able to seep into the engines. Borough Manager John Moosey says the vessel has been operating for five years without covers on its vertical smoke stacks without issue, and that it’s not clear why the problem showed up this year. What is certain is that the insurance estimate on repairs will not be cheap.

“We are working on the estimate.  It’s going to be significant; it’s anywhere from $500,000 to $1,000,000 is what we’re guessing.”

The borough’s policy carries a hefty deductible — $250,000. Marc Van Dongen says tarps now cover the smoke stacks. He says plans to sell the vessel are proceeding, despite the new chapter in the long saga of the Susitna.

“And we’re still attempting to dispose of the vessel either by transfer or by selling it as is.  We could still claim the insurance money to do the repairs, but that won’t happen until we have a buyer.”

John Moosey says there is no rush for determining what to do next with the MV Susitna. He says once more information is available, he will take it to the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.

“We’re still in kind of wait and see mode and just examining the situation.  Once that is concluded, I’ll report back to the assembly, because this has sucked up a lot of energy and time.  I know my assembly, as is, has a deep level of frustration.”

Meanwhile, the borough is negotiating with the Federal Transit Administration on twelve million dollars in grants the government agency wants back, because the ferry never went into service. The assembly held a closed-door executive session on the Susitna earlier this month, and has scheduled another. For now, Marc Van Dongen says the borough does not have plans to repair the boat.

“It appears that we’re not going to until we have a buyer.  Then, we would negotiate with that buyer on the deductible portion, based on what their offer might be for the vessel.”

Van Dongen says ship brokers in Florida and in Hawaii have contacted the Borough about the ship, as has an individual in Texas. According to Van Dongern, another individual, a foreign national, has made an offer, but Borough Manager Moosey says there are no offers in writing at this time. The borough would need federal approval to sell the Susitna outside the country.