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By SCOTT BOWLEN
Daily News Staff Writer
The state ferry Malaspina now isn’t expected to return to service until April 28 — four weeks after the mainline vessel’s originally scheduled March 31 resumption of service after undergoing annual overhaul and certification at the Ketchikan Shipyard.
“The delay is due to a scheduling change at the shipyard, and not related to Malaspina repairs or a change in the scope of work to be performed on the vessel,” according to a brief announcement published Wednesday morning by the Alaska Department of Transportation.
On Wednesday afternoon, DOT spokesperson Aurah Landau said the Malaspina timeline was pushed back because another project at the shipyard — the Berth 3 barge renovation — is taking longer than planned.
Doug Ward, director of shipyard development with shipyard operator Vigor Alaska, noted that the company doesn’t identify customers.
“We just have a customer whose project has taken longer … than expected and so we’ve had to reschedule that ferry,” Ward said early Wednesday evening, adding that unforeseen factors, including weather, have been involved in the delay.
The 408-foot Malaspina went out of service on Oct. 1 for work that includes painting the underside of the ferry, reconditioning the propeller hubs, replacing worn steel in the car decks, and completing the normal annual inspections, according to Landau.
Alaska Marine Highway System staff members are contacting passengers affected by the delay, according to the announcement.
The Malaspina delay is the latest impact on state ferry service in the region. The mainline ferry Columbia recently was out of service with a bow thruster problem for two weeks in Bellingham, Washington, and a combination of weather and mechanical issues sidelined the ferry LeConte in northern Southeast Alaska for several days in January and earlier this month.
The British Columbia port of Prince Rupert will feel the full effect of the Malaspina delay, going without AMHS service for the entire month of April.
Prince Rupert already has been without AMHS service on the approximately 90-mile route between it and Ketchikan since Dec. 19 — and it isn’t scheduled to see service resume until the AMHS ferry Kennicott arrives there on Feb. 24.
The Malaspina situation will drop Petersburg and Wrangell to one ferry northbound and southbound per week in April.
Ketchikan will have northbound and southbound (to Bellingham) service with the Columbia once per week in April, and service with the Kennicott northbound and southbound once every two weeks.
Landau acknowledged the Malaspina delays impact of service levels.
“We know that this is a challenge, that that boat provides community service throughout Southeast Alaska,” she said.
Landau noted that the ferry system has lost $29 million in total budget cuts between fiscal year 2013 and the current fiscal year 2018, and that two ferries have been removed from the fleet during that time frame. Those factors, in addition to an aging fleet and time, distance and port limitations, mean that AMHS doesn’t have a lot of flexibility to cover weather or mechanical challenges.
“So we’re trying to maximize service and have equitable service across the region as much as possible with the available vessels,” Landau said.