COVID-19 case could sideline Tustumena for two weeks

Jun 8, 2020

M/V Tustumena
Credit AMHS

The Alaska State Ferry Tustumena steamed into Homer Monday night at 7 p.m., but there wasn’t the usual rush of cars and people disembarking. In fact, the 51 people aboard, 35 crew and 6 passengers, were asked to stay aboard as health officials screened them for exposure to coronavirus after a crew member tested positive for COVID-19 while the ship was in Dutch Harbor on Saturday.
    Half way through only its second trip of the year after coming out of overhaul, the Tustumena now faces two weeks tied to the dock back here in Homer. Captain John Falvey is the director of the Alaska Marine Highway System. He says if he can’t get the crew back to their homes without risking exposing others to Covid-19, the crew will have to stay on board the Tusty, and the ship won’t be going anywhere.
    “I'll say, you know, right now to everyone, knowing where the boat is in Homer and knowing how we travel people, when we move crew in and out and off and on that ship, we use public transportation for the most part. So we may be in a situation where a lot of that crew will be remaining aboard the boat for the 14 days. That's the way myself and some of my senior staff  see it right now,” Falvey said. “That's to say we're in a fluid situation here now, but I see the rules, I understand the rules, and we may be in a situation where we, unless the employee has a car on the dock that they can ride in by themselves, we're in a tough situation. So it may be that we're gonna need to quarantine the ship in place for two weeks.”
    As the Tustumena sailed directly back to Homer, bypassing all the Alaska Peninsula communities on its schedule, the Marine Highway System released an announcement early Monday that had the Tusty resuming its runs on Saturday. But during an afternoon press conference, Falvey says that’s probably changing.
    “We had initially thought about getting going again on the 13th on a circuit around from Homer to Kodiak to Homer. The next circuit in the scheme of things would be the 16th, Homer Kodiak Homer,” Falvey said. “Now with potentially having to leave more crew aboard the boat, we have to wait and see here maybe a few weeks before we can run again. But that remains to be seen.”
    In two sailings from Homer this season, the Tustumena only made it through one and a half trips successfully. Nevertheless, Captain Falvey says the Alaska Marine Highway System will continue to rely on the Covid-19 mitigation plans it had already drawn up.
     “You know, we do have an approved mitigation plan for all of our ships and we've been following that plan,” Falvey said. “And you know, that's what we're going to keep doing and hope and hope that it doesn't happen again.”
    As of press time, the status of future sailings of the Tusty were still up in the air.
    South Peninsula Hospital personnel were scheduled to collect “rapid” test swabs from the crew and passengers on the Tustumena, and analyze them through the night.