In an effort to save money, the Alaska Marine Highway considers sinking one of its oldest ferries

A large blue ferry with a white cabin plows through turqoise wavy water with mountains in the background
The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Malaspina plies the waters of upper Lynn Canal in route from Haines to Skagway in Southeast Alaska, August 15, 2012. (Kelli Berkinshaw/KTOO)

At a State House committee meeting on Monday, a Department of Transportation official suggested a dramatic way to save costs on one of its unused ferries: Sink the ship.

The Malaspina and its twin, the Matanuska, are the fleet’s oldest ships, built in the 1960s. The Malaspina has been moored at Ward Cove in Ketchikan since 2019. It costs about $450,000 each year to store the ship.

The state is currently considering a variety of options to remove that red line from its budget. They’ve looked into selling the ferry, but there’s an overabundance of decommissioned cruise ships available, so there’s very little interest in the open market.

That leaves selling the boat for scrap metal or sinking it and creating an artificial reef on the ocean floor.

Rob Carpenter from the Department of Transportation presented this idea to the Legislature on Monday.

“Other options we’re considering are scuttling her,” he said. “We’re talking to the EPA on that option of cleaning her up, taking all the asbestos, etc., off, and then creating a reef somewhere.”

That plan would cost somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. But it would cost an estimated $16 million to repair the nearly 60-year-old ship.

Recent mechanical issues sidelined the Matanuska earlier this month, forcing Skagway and Haines to charter a private vessel to transport passengers from Juneau while leaving their vehicles behind.

Earlier this month the state sold off two of its fast ferries, the Fairweather and the Chenega, for $5.1 million. They were originally purchased for $68 million. This leaves the Alaska Marine Highway with a fleet of 10 ships serving the entirety of coastal Alaska. With fewer boats on the water, every breakdown taxes an already stressed ferry system.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget plan slashes an additional $7 million dollars from the Alaska Marine Highway System’s budget for 2022. The House Finance Committee has suggested keeping the funding similar to the budget for 2021.

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