The former Alaska Marine Highway System fast ferries Fairweather and Chenega soon will be one step closer to leaving their home state for a new life in the Mediterranean Sea.
On Saturday, marine workers will transfer cribbing and blocking materials onto the marine heavy lift vessel Red Zed I that will secure the ferries on their trip to Spain, a member of the Ward Cove Group confirmed on Friday.
The group has overseen some aspects of the ferry transfer while working with representatives from the Red Zed I’s owners and the Spanish company that bought the ferries.
"We're to move our cribbing and blocking materials to the Red Zed I tomorrow morning," said group member Stephen Bradford. "Our first load is to be shipside at 7 a.m."
It still isn't clear when the ferries will actually leave their home in the Last Frontier, Bradford said.
The Alaska Department of Transportation in mid-March agreed to sell the ferries to Servicios y Concesiones Marítimas Ibicencas S.A. for $5.17 million. The company's name translates in English to Ibizan Maritime Services and Concessions, so named for its location on the Spanish island of Ibiza.
The Red Zed I, sailing under the Liberian flag and owned by Jiahua Shipping Co. Ltd. in Hong Kong, arrived in Ketchikan on April 2.
Work on the transfer stalled soon after, due to concerns that the ferries would sustain structural damage unless the companies changed the method by which they would secure the ferries to the Red Zed I, Bradford said last month.
On Friday, Bradford said he'd been notified of the cribbing and blocking transfers by marine engineers from the Seattle-based Elliott Bay Design Group, which is representing the Spanish company for the Ward Cove transfer.
"I did confirm it with the ship's agents, and they confirmed for me that the captain is expecting us, and they will have crane and crew ready at 7 a.m.," Bradford said. "We think it'll take three loads. We don't know how quick the process, shipside, will be, because we don't have any idea what their capabilities are and how large the crane is, for that matter. … We've been advised that there are no English speakers on board."
Despite that linguistic hurdle, Bradford said, "we should be able to get it all done in one day. Whether it's a half a day or a full day, we don't know."
Contrary to what some had been speculating on social media, Bradford said, the AMHS ferry Malaspina moved from its longtime mooring near the fast ferries to the middle of Ward Cove on Friday morning in order to allow a fuel barge to refill tanks at the Delta Western Petroleum facility at Ward Cove. The move was unrelated to the new directive regarding Saturday’s materials transfer.
Once the materials have been moved onto the Red Zed I, it will take at least a few days to secure the ferries for transport.
"We had always been told that once all the blocking materials were onboard, we'd be moving the ferries within a few days thereafter. So, in theory, it could be towards the end of the week,” said Bradford. “We've not had confirmation of that timing yet.”
The ferries might make their voyage with some additional cargo, he said.
“There are some additional parts in the AMHS warehouse related to the extra engines that (the Spanish company) purchased that they might want us to try and fit on the car decks of these ferries before we move them,” said Bradford. “That could add a couple of days to it as well.”
Those parts would include “some cradles and some other equipment” for the engines, he explained. The engines themselves have already been shipped off to their destinations.
"(The blocking transfer) hopefully means that the owners of the Red Zed I and Elliott Bay have reached an agreement on what the appropriate blocking will be, and we can move those ferries and have them on their way," Bradford said.