The Malaspina could be enlisted to fight global piracy. Instead, the state pays $ 75,000 a month to tie it to a dock.
The cost of keeping an inactive Alaska ferry docked is almost twice as much as publicly reported to the public and state legislators. That’s according to internal emails obtained by CoastAlaska in October, more than three months after their first request under the state’s public records law.
First, the story: the almost 60-year-old ferry Malaspina was built in the year of JFK’s assassination. She is one of three original Sea Highway twin ships designed to connect coastal communities with one another and the Lower 48. But the blue-and-gold main ferry has not carried passengers for nearly two years.
The administration of Governor Mike Dunleavy was unwilling to invest in overhauling its original engines from 1963. Estimates for repairing the ship are over $ 70 million for steel work, new ones. engines and restoration of her Coast Guard certificate which expired while the vessel was decommissioned. at Ward Cove, a private dock north of Ketchikan. Still, officials were apparently unable to decide whether it would be better to scuttle, sell or donate the ship.
As late as August 31, the general manager of the sea route told CoastAlaska that plans to unload the vessel remained “on hold.”
A floating barracks on the Horn of Africa, a cash offer of $ 625,000 from the United Arab Emirates
We talked about commercial interest. But for the first time, email records show the nature of the inquiries. A company says it wants the Malaspina for anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast.
âWe would use it as a platform to house staff in the Middle East,â said Jonathan McConnell, president of Meridian Global Consulting, a security company based in Mobile, Alabama.
The Malaspina has cabins with more than 230 passenger berths which it says could be made into sleeping quarters for security contractors who patrol the shipping lanes to deter pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, he said. declared.
He said recent email chains between his company and state officials show that more than a year has passed since he first expressed interest. He last contacted on July 29 with no response.
âWe felt largely blocked by them,â McConnell told CoastAlaska this week. He says his company is prepared to pay fair market value, which is almost $ 1 million.
He added: “And our complaints weren’t even taken into account, it seemed.”
Another potential buyer in the UAE had made a cash offer via email for $ 625,000 for the Malaspina as is, according to the emails.
Several potential buyers have said the 408-foot vessel has monetary value. It could be sailed or towed on a temporary Coast Guard certificate to be reused or sold as scrap.
âThere are many uses for this vessel,â said McConnell. âPutting it in place and spending $ 40,000 a month on a layup is astronomical, frankly. “
Internal emails show surprise at high cost of mooring and insurance
This was also the view of many inside DOT. Internal emails – some of them completely redacted – show officials were surprised and frustrated with the expense of maintaining the vessel.
An email from Mary Siroky, a recently retired assistant commissioner, revealed that the cost of the ship’s insurance made the actual monthly cost of keeping the Malaspina closer to $ 75,000.
This was nearly double the figure cited by the agency as the cost of mooring the ship at Ward Cove.
“His (sic) seems clear to me, even if we give evil we get away with it really quickly,” DOT Deputy Commissioner Rob Carpenter wrote in an August 2020 email in response.
This was the apparent view from inside the Dunleavy administration which earlier this year attempted to give the ship to the Philippines.
A May 20 letter to the Consul General in San Francisco made it clear that it could be addressed either to the foreign government or to a private operator in the country.
But the talks between Alaska and the Philippines had apparently been going on for some time. Internal emails show that a month before the official offer bearing the governor’s signature was sent, an email from DOT’s Rob Carpenter asked if that deal with Manilla was still ongoing.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Acting Chief of Staff Randy Ruaro responded the same day by ordering DOT to wait.
“Don’t do anything with the Malaspina,” Ruaro wrote in an email. âThe Philippine consul is interested and is working on it on his side. The boat is 60 years old. We don’t need to rush to do something with it this month or maybe next. Please refrain from posting anything that may dispose of the ship until you hear us say to go ahead. We will let you know. “
Ruaro told CoastAlaska this week that the deal collapsed when the Philippine government learned it would cost more than $ 50 million to rehabilitate as a passenger ship.
“They said it would be out of their price range for wanting the boat, âhe said in a telephone interview.
Malaspina stored long term in $ 400,000 sole-source contract
But even thereafter, emails through June 23 showed no evidence that efforts to dispose of the ship have resumed. Or this other direction was offered from above. And that at that time, the state had signed a contract with the Ward Cove group to store the vessel.
“With only one interested party, the state processed a single source procurement to authorize the award of a new contract to Ward Cove Group for $ 402,084 per year,” the DOT wrote in an email to CoastAlaska in June.
The Dunleavy administration earlier this year, the newest ships in the fleet – two fast ferries – were sold to a Spanish company for service in the Mediterranean. The sale of surplus vessels had been a key recommendation of the Governor’s task force advising on the future of the fleet.
Tom Barrett, the retired Coast Guard admiral tasked with chairing the task force, says it’s obvious the Malaspina remains a drain on state coffers.
âSell it or throw it away,â Barrett said in an interview. âBut you just don’t want to keep it indefinitely. You also have insurance, but it’s a risk factor, it’s an old ship and it’s moored at a dock.
The DOT confirmed to CoastAlaska that the cost of insuring the Malaspina Ferry was approximately $ 420,000 per year in FY2021 and said that figure would increase “slightly” in FY 2022. Add the roughly $ 450,000 the state pays for mooring and electricity. and the cost is almost double what he previously admitted.
Concerned Alaska Marine Highway Supervisors
Those charged with overseeing the ferry system say it’s far more than what the DOT has even disclosed to lawmakers – which is particularly problematic given the the extremely tight budget for the maritime road network it is regularly the target of veto on line items.
âI am very surprised to learn that the marine highway system is able to split this insurance cost among each ship and never bothered to mention it to the legislature,â the CoastAlaska told Coastalaska. Senator Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau. He had been a member of the Senate transport committee which questioned transport officials on the cost of transporting immobilized ships.
“We either have to start a federally funded project and refurbish this ship to get it moving,” Kiehl said, “or we have to make a decision regarding the elimination of the ship as Alaskans.”
He added, “If the ministry doesn’t present all the facts, it ties the hands of lawmakers to do the job the Alaskans have sent us here.”
Ruaro, chief of staff to the governor and former senatorial adviser to Republican Senator from Sitka, Bert Stedman, says he is interested in Malaspina. He says he will travel to Ketchikan to personally inspect the condition of the vessel at Ward Cove.
He says he couldn’t immediately explain why there had been no response to potential buyers.
âI will step in and speak to the DOT and we will make sure that any offers or expressions of interest are all reviewed and checked for options,â Ruaro said.
Several emails from a DOT contractor reiterated that there were several serious business offers for the Malaspina on the table, one from a ferry operator in Fiji who had purchased similar vessels from BC Ferries.
Rob Carpenter, the deputy commissioner, pointed to the agency’s scrutiny as it faced tough decisions about the future of the ship.
âThere is significant sentimental value to the ship, so a public process and an assessment of alternatives will likely be the best approach seen by the public,â he wrote on April 21.
Since that email was sent, the inactive and vacant Malaspina has cost the State of Alaska more than $ 400,000 in mooring fees, electricity and insurance.