The F/V Tustumena’s return to service has once again been delayed. The Alaska Marine Highway announced Monday more of the vessel’s steel structure would need to be replaced.
The Tustumena has been in Ketchikan for scheduled maintenance since March, and its return to Western Alaska was set for May 27. Staff found the first batch of damaged steel in early May, cutting the vessel’s scheduled sailings in half.
Marine Highway Spokeswoman Meadow Bailey explained after the latest discovery, communities from Homer to Unalaska won’t have service until August 15.
“There’s nothing that we can do at this point. Usually there are 10 trips down the chain, and this year, as long as everything stays on schedule, we’ll only be able to provide three,” Bailey said. “We recognize that this really impacts communities.”
Bailey added there was no way to fill gaps in service without impacting the whole system.
The Tustumena is 53 years old. Until the vessel is replaced, Bailey said repairs will be more common.
“So we’re seeing more and more of the instances of wasted steel, and unfortunately it takes time to make those repairs,” Bailey said. “It’s not something that they see immediately when they walk through. It’s something that becomes discovered as you’re going through making repairs.”
A new vessel has been designed to replace the Tustumena. The federal government would fund most of the $240 million project. The state would pay for 10 percent of the vessel, but the Legislature still needs to approve that funding.