Spanish firm bids on Alaska’s fast ferries

A blue and white ferry travels through the water on a clear day with mountains in the background
The fast ferry M/V Fairweather steams through Chatham Strait in 2011. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

The state of Alaska is trying to sell its idled fast ferries as it seeks to reduce the size of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s fleet.

So far, the only taker is Trasmapi, an Ibiza-based ferry company that runs catamarans between the Mediterranean island and the Spanish mainland. The Spanish firm offered a pair of bids for a combined worth of $4.6 million for the M/V Chenega and M/V Fairweather.

“And that is all the bids we have on the vessels,” said Tom Mayer, who works in the Alaska Department of Transportation’s procurement section, after the bids were unsealed on Wednesday afternoon.

The reserve price is $5 million per vessel. That means the offer from Servicios Y Concesiones Maritimas Ibicencas S.A. was about $5.3 million shy of what the state was hoping to get for the two catamarans it’s been paying to keep in lay-up since 2015 and 2019.

The 235-foot fast ferries were popular during operations. They could cover distances twice as fast as the rest of the fleet — Juneau to Sitka only took about four hours. But they burned more fuel than the conventional fleet, and struggled in rough wintertime conditions.

During Wednesday’s call, Mayer added the agency would be within its rights to make a deal.

“Please keep in mind that the state reserves the right through the procurement documents to negotiate with the highest bidder at the end of the bidding process,” Mayer said.

In other words, the state can settle for less. The M/V Fairweather and M/V Chenega were added to the fleet more than 15 years ago. They cost a combined $68 million.

But the Spanish ferry operator didn’t walk away completely empty handed on Wednesday. Its bids for two spare diesel engines were also the highest bids. It beat out Pacific Power Group, a Portland, Oregon area-based firm, which bid about $211,000 less for the engines.

There was no minimum, meaning the Spanish firm is set to acquire the two engines for around $411,000. The pair cost the state of Alaska $3 million. They were never used.