A Tacoma shipyard is hosting an unusual visitor from Alaska, thanks to that state’s operating budget shortfall.
The $36 million FVF Chenega is spending time at the Vigor Marine Tacoma shipyard on the Tideflats. It arrived there in October, and as of now, is not scheduled to leave, said Jeremy Woodrow, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation.
The fast vehicle ferry is essentially being stored in what Woodrow called “long-term cost-saving layup.”
“The State of Alaska is currently working through an unprecedented annual operating budget shortfall of $3.5 billion,” Woodrow wrote in an email. “As a result, many state government services have been dramatically reduced while the state works toward a long-term fiscal solution.”
A September memo from Alaska’s Department of Transportation to its fleet managers and supervisors states the Chenega and another vessel will be “unmanned and without a foreseeable return to service date.”
Jim Marshall, in business development and ship repair at Vigor Marine, said he expects the boat to be there into next summer. For now, Vigor has sealed up the vessel’s spaces and covered the windows to prevent sun bleaching of interior fabrics.
“Basically they are just parking it,” Marshall said. “Cost-saving layup means they can’t afford to run it because it goes very, very fast.”
Alaska is spending $160,000 per year to store the ferry at the Tideflats, although this year the state paid an extra $44,000 to tow it to Tacoma, Woodrow said.
The FVF Chenega is one of two fast vehicle ferries in the Alaska Marine Highway system. The boat is designed to travel at 32 knots — almost 37 mph for us landlubbers. The Chenega has a sister ship: the FVF Fairweather. Both fast ferries have a catamaran hull.
By comparison, the MV Tacoma — one of the ferries serving the Seattle to Bainbridge Island route for the Washington state Department of Transportation — can travel at 18 knots, or almost 21 mph.
The Chenega can carry 210 passengers and around 31 20-foot vehicles, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation. The MV Tacoma can hold at most 202 vehicles.
Woodrow said Alaska serves about 300,000 ferry customers a year along a 3,500-mile coastline.
In contrast, Washington’s system serves more than 23 million customers per year in Puget Sound.
While there are no plans to retire and sell the FVF Chenega, Woodrow said, the state will sell the MV Taku, a slower, older boat that is in dock in Ketchikan.
Marshall said the Tacoma yard is usually in the business of building or repairing vessels, not storing them.
“For us to store a vessel is odd,” Marshall said. “Generally, as a shipyard, we don’t want to utilize the space for a project that is not undergoing building or repairs.”