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Repairs Will Delay Tustumena Ferry Until July

May 8, 2017

The F/V Tustumena.
Credit Nancy Heise

Repairs have delayed the M/V Tustumena more than a month, forcing the Alaska Marine Highway System to cancel several sailings for southwest Alaska.

The ferry was supposed to return to service May 27. But now, officials say the Tustumena won’t be fit to leave its Ketchikan shipyard until July 18.

“There was some discovery during its annual overhaul that there was additional, extensive steel waste in the engine room," said Meadow Bailey, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Transportation. "That repair will take about two months longer to complete.”

The delay will affect communities across the region, from Homer to Kodiak to Unalaska.

Carlin Enlow -- director of the Unalaska Convention and Visitors Bureau -- said her heart sank when she heard the Tustumena would miss three or four trips to the island.

“All the sailings were booked up months ago, so I’m thinking about how many people that’s going to displace, whether they’re locals or visitors,” said Enlow. 

Tour guide Bobbie Lekanoff said she’s already had several cancelations from tourists who were scheduled to visit Unalaska on the ferry.

She’s expecting significant financial losses for her business, based on similar ferry issues in 2013.

“I lost out on approximately $5,000 that season, and that was just confirmed tours I already had," said Lekanoff. "That doesn’t include some that I may have picked up at the dock."

Bailey said the Tustumena’s ongoing problems stem from the vessel’s old age. It was built in 1964 and is now more 50 years old.

“We have been talking about the need for a replacement vessel for some time," she said. "The replacement vessel is designed, but there currently isn’t funding quite yet.”

Bailey said it’s up to state lawmakers to set aside funding in the capital budget.

The cost of building a replacement ferry has been estimated around $240 million. Federal funding should pick up most of the tab, but the state will have to pay for 10 percent. 

KMXT's Kayla Desroches contributed to this story.