State ferry Tustumena is offline for repairs for up to a week

a state ferry
The Tustumena stops in Kodiak in the channel between Near Island and town. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

The state ferry Tustumena, which shuttles passengers between communities like Homer, Kodiak and Unalaska, is laid up in a shipyard in Seward for repairs.

“(It’s) not something that we can fix while it’s in the water,” said Sam Dapcevich, a public information officer for the Alaska Marine Highway System. “So they’re going to haul it out in Seward and evaluate it and come up with a repair plan.”

Affectionately known as the “Trusty Tusty,” crews are looking to replace the ferry’s rusted and leaking tail shaft. Dapcevich said they hope repairs will be done by Wednesday.

The Aurora, the ferry that serves the eastern Gulf of Alaska, will also be in the JAG Shipyard for scheduled repairs this week.

Dapcevich said ferries like the Tustumena have a life expectancy of just 30 years or so, but the boat has been in operation for almost double that time. He says rusted-out parts, like those found on the ferry Matanuska earlier this year, are a major concern for the Department of Transportation.

“It’s way beyond what the normal life would be for a ship like that and so when these rusted steel, or we refer to it as wasted steel, when these kinds of issues come up, we have to take care of it,” he said. “We want to keep the passengers safe and make sure that the ship can be out there on the open sea.”

The state transportation department is looking to solicit bids for a replacement vessel by November and to award a contract by the end of the year. But until a replacement is ready, staff will have to keep up with the aging boat.

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