By Larry Persily

Citing low passenger counts amid travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, the state has significantly reduced ferry service throughout Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound into the summer.

The Tazlina will continue to serve Lynn Canal twice a week into the first week of June. The service will drop to one call on Skagway each week as the ship’s availability is limited with the addition of service from Juneau to Gustavus besides calling on Hoonah, Angoon and Haines.

The Tazlina will resume twice-weekly sailings to Skagway in July.

The state on April 16 announced reduced service, subject to change, “for spring and early summer to provide an appropriate level of service based on passenger demand, crew availability and state and federal guidelines for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Though three other ferries had been scheduled to come back into service for the summer season in Southeast, their return “will be delayed until such time travel restrictions are relaxed and demand returns for passenger service,” the ferry system said in its press release.

The Alaska Marine Highway System website now shows the Columbia returning to work and making its first stop in Skagway on July 6, more than two months later than originally planned.

The LeConte and Matanuska, which had been expected to join the fleet for summer voyages in May and June, respectively, are not on the schedule posted on the ferry system website April 16, pending a decision by management based on future demand.

The Tustemena, which serves Cook Inlet, Kodiak and Gulf of Alaska communities, had been scheduled to return to service this month, but the state announced April 1 that its return would be delayed until mid-May, and now that’s been postponed to the first week of June.

The Kennicott, which will sail from Bellingham, Washington, to Southeast, now is scheduled to return the last week of June, its second delay from an April start and then, later, a scheduled mid-May return.

There appear to be no changes in the schedule for the small shuttle ferry, the Lituya, which runs between Ketchikan and Metlakatla almost daily.

Without the larger vessels with staterooms, there will be no service between Bellingham and Southeast until the end of June. Cordova and Valdez in Prince William Sound will continue without any ferry service until further notice. The two communities last saw a state ferry in September.

“The health and well-being of our passengers and crew is a top priority … We continue to observe social distancing rules and implement intensified cleaning protocols at our terminals and onboard our vessels,” according to the April 16 Alaska Department of Transportation announcement.