Ferry Taku sale set for Jan. 19, but its future is uncertain

The state ferry Taku will be sold to Jabal Al Lawz Trading Jan. 19. It’s 352 feet long and designed to carry 350 passengers and about 50 vehicles. (Photo courtesy Alaska Marine Highway System)

The state ferry Taku will keep its name – and possibly its job – after it leaves Alaska.

But it could also be cut up for scrap.

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Jabal Al Lawz Trading is the company buying the 55-year-old ferry. The company is based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, on the Persian Gulf, but its owners are in India and New Zealand.

“My partner and I buy scrap ships all around the world and mobilize them to India, where there’s quite a strong market for older vessels and they chop them up and recycle the steel,” Capt. Barrymore “Ben” Evans said.

And that’s where the Taku may end up.

Evans doesn’t want to send it there, because it’s not at the end of its life, so he and his partner are looking elsewhere.

“There’s some people in the Philippines looking at a coastal ferry service … and similarly in Indonesia, the same scenario. And we also have inquiries from Papua New Guinea,” he said. “They have a coastal shipping service because they don’t have very much road infrastructure there.”

Evans’ partner, Rishi Aggarwal of Mumbai, India, is more optimistic. In an email exchange, Aggarwal said he expects the ship to remain a ferry. If it does, he said it will keep the name Taku.

Mumbai is a center for businesses that dismantle and recycle large ships.

The industry is known for low wages and hazardous working conditions.

The Taku has been docked since June of 2015, when it was taken out of service because of its age, as well as budget cuts.

It would need substantial improvements and updated certifications to rejoin the fleet.

Evans said the nations interested in the ship don’t have the same requirements.

“These are the sort of countries that can use an older ferry. Because their regulations are safe, but they are, how can I say it? More flexible than the United State or Europe would be,” he said.

Evans will fly to Ketchikan on Jan. 18 for a final inspection. The next day, he and Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager John Falvey will sign the final paperwork.

Falvey said that’s the end of state ownership, which began in 1963.

“We, in essence, are going to switch over the docking fees on the day that we make the sale,” Falvey said.

The partnership already has made a $25,000 deposit. The remainder of the $171,000 price will be paid before the documents are signed.

Evans said he’ll bring in a crew the day after the sale.

They’ll spend about 20 days preparing the Taku for the voyage. It will first sail to Seattle, then across the Pacific to the Philippines and on to its final destination.

He expects the trip to take about a month.

Evans gives the ship about a 50 percent chance of continuing to sail.

“I just sincerely hope we do find a buyer because she’s an absolutely beautiful vessel. And when we buy ships, they are reaching the end of their life cycle,” Evans said. “It’s quite nice when you come across one that’s in such lovely condition, but also very, very sad to put it up on the beach. So I do hope that doesn’t happen,” Evans said.

State officials put the Taku up for sale last March. The original minimum bid was $1.5 million. But it took several tries, each with a lower price.

At one point, a Portland-based group planned to turn it into a floating hotel. But neighbors objected and the offer was withdrawn

Evans’ company’s winning bid was a little more than a tenth of the original minimum price.

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Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.