Larry Persily

Wrangell Sentinel

After spending almost $1.1 million to keep the vessels out of service to save money and safely tied up the past several years, the state last week sold its two fast ferries — built at a combined cost of $68 million less than 20 years ago — for just over $5 million.

Mediterranean-based catamaran operator Trasmapi offered around $4.6 million for the Fairweather and Chenega. The company serves the Spanish island of Ibiza, about 70 miles off the coast. The state was able to negotiate the final price to $5,174,444.

The price for two never-used spare diesel engines for the ships is being negotiated separately, said Sam Dapcevich, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation.

Trasmapi was the only bidder for the 235-foot-long ships. The company runs a fleet between the Spanish mainland and Ibiza, a top destination for European vacationers.

The state had asked for a minimum bid of $10 million.

The sale proceeds will be transferred into the state’s vessel construction fund, an account used for future Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) ship maintenance and construction. The deal closed March 10.

“Selling the fast ferries is a move to right-size the fleet and lets AMHS redirect funds used for their storage to operations. This moves us toward our goal of a more sustainable and affordable level of service for Alaskans,” Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon said in a prepared statement. 

The Fairweather and Chenega have been tied up at Ward Cove in Ketchikan the past few years, at an estimated total cost of $1.1 million through this fiscal year for shore power and security and moorage fees, according to a department presentation to the Senate Finance Committee transportation budget subcommittee on March 3.

The ships, which traveled about twice as fast as the rest of the state ferry fleet, were popular with passengers. But they struggled to perform in rough seas and burned much more fuel. The ships, each powered by four diesel engines, burned through about 600 hours of fuel an hour, according to the Alaska Marine Highway System website. That’s more than double the consumption rate of the Matanuska, which can carry more than twice as many passengers and vehicles as the smaller ferries.

A heavy-lift vessel is expected to pick up the ships and take them to Spain via the Panama Canal this month, Dapcevich said.