The State of Alaska is considering selling the Alaska Marine Highway ferry Taku. The ship was commissioned in 1963. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The State of Alaska is considering selling the Alaska Marine Highway ferry Taku. The ship was commissioned in 1963. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Taku sale falls through, ferry may head to Philippines instead of Portland

The ferry Taku will not become a Portland hotel.

Instead, it may live on as a ferry in the Philippines or be bound for an Asian scrapyard.

Aurah Landau, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Facilities, told the Empire on Wednesday that the high bidder for the 352-foot ship has backed out of a deal to purchase the surplus ferry.

In September, Jonathan Cohen of Portland, Oregon, offered $300,000 for the ferry on behalf of KeyMar LLC.

The Taku has been laid up in Ketchikan since it was taken out of service in 2015, and the state began the process of selling it for surplus earlier this year.

The sale was expected to close in the first week of December, but Landau said by email that “the previous bidder … withdrew its bid, citing several factors including regulatory issues in Portland.”

In September, Cohen told this newspaper that he intended to transform the Taku into a waterfront hotel in Portland’s Willamette River. Cohen, founder of a solar energy company, is a partner in Portland’s boutique Society Hotel and outlined his plans in a filing with the city of Portland.

“Our goal is to be successful with this plan. I feel that Portland is the right place for it now,” Cohen told the Empire in September.

The Empire attempted to reach Cohen by email and phone on Wednesday but was unsuccessful. Someone who answered the phone at the Society Hotel said Cohen was returning from a vacation out of the country.

After KeyMar withdrew its winning bid in a Nov. 7 letter to the state, the state offered the ship to the No. 2 and No. 3 bidders from September.

“It was a non-public bid process. They were asked to resubmit bids,” Landau said by phone.

DOT consulted with the Department of Law, and in a two-week process, the two losing bidders were told that if they were still interested, they had to submit a $100,000 minimum bid with a $25,000 nonrefundable deposit.

The new winning bid is $171,000 from Jabal Al Lawz Trading Est. of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. That corporation was the No. 2 bidder at the September offering, and at the time suggested it would pay $50,400. The new purchase price is three times that amount, but Landau said the deal is still in the works as the state negotiates final sales terms and agreements.

In September, New Zealander Ben Evans traveled to Juneau in person to deliver the bid for Jabal Al Lawz. Evans told the Empire at that time that he travels the world, seeking ships for scrapping in India.

When the Empire contacted the company by email Wednesday, a spokesman said the company had not been officially notified by the state, but that if it did have the winning bid, “that would be fantastic news, as we have a new life planned for her in the Cebu Islands.”

Cebu Island is in the southcentral Philippines.

Built in 1963, the Taku needs several Coast Guard certifications and some significant maintenance work. The Alaska Marine Highway System, hit hard by state budget cuts, was unable to keep the Taku certified. With two new ferries scheduled to come from a Ketchikan shipyard next year, the state elected to sell the Taku.

Landau said the state’s mission when selling the Taku is to get the most value possible.

She pointed out that the state has already stripped the ferry of several hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment that has been re-used on other ships.

“While the Taku is a beautiful and beloved boat, the state’s obligation is to secure the highest value sale for Alaska,” she said by email.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or call 523-2258.

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