After Facebook uproar, ferry managers say they’re committed to Prince Rupert route

a ferry
The Kennicott docked in Wrangell in October of 2021. (Sage Smiley/KSTK)

The Alaska Marine Highway’s route to Prince Rupert, British Columbia has languished in recent years, as pandemic restrictions, fleet issues, and low staffing kept the route between Southeast and Canada from running regularly.

But false information circulated on social media the first weekend in October caused panic about the route ending altogether.

The Alaska Department of Transportation, which oversees the Alaska Marine Highway, says the state ferry route to Prince Rupert, B.C. isn’t going anywhere.

“We haven’t discontinued Prince Rupert on a permanent basis,” says Sam Dapcevich, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation. “We’re not going there right now primarily because we don’t have the crew resources to support sending the Kennicott there. But we are committed to reopening that port in the future when we have resources available to do so.”

A Facebook post written as a news release by a user named Robbie Marionson on Oct. 1 stated that staff and management at the Prince Rupert terminal were clearing out personal effects because the terminal was closing for good. It wasn’t a real news release. The post has since been deleted.

The post caused an uproar on the social media site and prompted official responses from Southeast state legislator Rep. Dan Ortiz and the Alaska Department of Transportation.

In short, it’s not true.

The Prince Rupert terminal is not closing for good. But it is unmanned right now. Dapcevich says that in recent months, the terminal had been maintained by part-time contractors, but their contract expired.

He says the marine highway system is working to sort out a new contract.

a Facebook post
A screenshot of the Facebook post that caused online uproar. It has since been deleted.

The fake press release stated the terminal was being shuttered because the Alaska Marine Highway management allowed a critical international safety certification to expire for the Kennicott. It’s one of the largest ferries in the state’s fleet, and one of two that’s able to dock in Canada. The other is the Matanuska, which is in major overhaul. Without enough crew for the Kennicott, both ferries have stayed tied up in Ketchikan for months.

Because the Prince Rupert terminal is an international stop, Alaska ferries that tie up there have to meet certain international standards, set by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. Those SOLAS standards encompass a few requirements, including how the ship itself is built. That’s why only the Kennicott and Matanuska can serve the route — they’re the two Alaska ferries built to the proper standard.

Some Kennicott certificates that are required for international travel did expire in April. Those SOLAS certificates are overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard. But Dapcevich says that doesn’t mean the Kennicott’s SOLAS certification itself is expiring.

“The ship was built to SOLAS standards, and we maintain it and keep that safety standard in place,” Dapcevich says. “So there’s no license to expire or anything like that. The ship has its certification.”

Dapcevich says it’s standard practice to wait to renew SOLAS and other sailing certificates until a ship is out of the yard and back in service, since many of the certificates only last 12 months. A Coast Guard spokesperson confirmed that it’s common for ships to wait to request renewed certificates until out of the yard.

All in all, the post from Marionson contained elements of truth. The Prince Rupert terminal is unmanned because of an expired contract, but not because it’s being abandoned, the state says. The Kennicott is in the shipyard and doesn’t have updated certificates, but that’s standard practice for ships that aren’t in service. The weak service on the route has left people stranded in recent months, but the Alaska Department of Transportation continues to publicly state it intends to resume service to Prince Rupert in the future.

The marine highway’s website states the Kennicott is expected to return to service in mid-November, although that doesn’t necessarily include a Prince Rupert stop.

Marionson did not respond to a request for comment.

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