Twenty-six passengers remain stranded in Juneau, living aboard the MV Matanuska, after that ship’s sailings were canceled Saturday due to engine troubles.
The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities hired a private catamaran to transport 160 passengers, mostly high school students, to other locations in Southeast, but passengers bound for Anchorage are on their own.
But it’s not all bad.
“The biggest problem is I’m eating too much,” said Gerald Stroebele, an Anchorage resident on his way back from a road trip in the Lower 48.
The crew of the Matanuska have opened the galley for the stranded passengers and given them cabins for accommodation, all free of charge. Additionally, DOT refunded passengers’ tickets.
DOT was not yet able to say how much it would cost the state to house the passengers and keep the Matanuska’s systems running while it was undergoing repairs, according to Sam Dapcevich, public information officer for the department.
“They’ve shown us wonderful hospitality,” Stroebele said of the crew. “They couldn’t be treating us better.”
But these passengers are still waiting. The Matanuska has two new engines that are in need of repairs and parts are currently being flown in, according to Dapcevich. The Matanuska is scheduled to resume service on Feb. 8, he said.
The engine trouble was caused by a leak which then contaminated oil in one of the engine’s gear systems, Dapcevich said. The engines are under warranty, which means the state won’t have to pay for the repairs, he said.
Passengers are allowed to drive their vehicles on and off the ferry, allowing for travel into Juneau, and some passengers have elected to find other means of transport.
Keegan Krantz, who’s moving from Craig to Palmer, said he’s putting his truck on a barge and shipping it to Haines.
“I don’t want to wait here another week,” Krantz said. Krantz and some of the passengers are traveling with pets which adds additional complications. He can put his truck on a barge but there’s no passengers allowed, so he and his dog will have to fly to Haines.
“Cost of the barge is comparable to the ferry, but that doesn’t cover the cost for me (and the dog),” he said.
Most passengers were trying to make light of the situation, Krantz said, but were frustrated. According to Stoebele, there were several military members traveling on the ferries who had upcoming reporting dates. He said at least one had contacted her commanding officer to inform them of the situation.
“It’s totally ridiculous that legislators are coming down here, and the ferries aren’t running,” Krantz said. “I understand there’s not a lot of money going around right now, but the ferries are not just for Southeast.”
Stroebele too, was critical of the way the ferry system has been handled.
“That’s the only ship that’s running,” Stroebele said. “That’s the real story. That’s the real tragedy.”
Another ship — the MV Lituya — is still actually running right now ,making runs between Ketchikan and Metlakatla, according to Dapcevich. But that is currently the only vessel the Alaska Marine Highway System has running, he said.
In an email, Dapcevich said the Matanuska’s mechanical issue was unavoidable and that staff were taking every step to assist passengers and get the ship back in service.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.