‘Rusty Tusty’ service is delayed due to … rust



The Alaska ferry M/V Tustumena is staying put at the Vigor Ketchikan Shipyards for now, due to extensive “steel wastage” on the car deck.

The 55-year-old ferry was in for its annual maintenance and overhaul in February, and during that servicing the rust was discovered. It is expected to return to service on May 18 on a trip from Homer to Kodiak. Originally, it would have been back in service next week.

The delay impacts communities in Southwest Alaska and along the Aleutian chain. Alaska Marine Highway System staff is contacting affected passengers.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is in the process of replacing the Tustumena, one of two ocean-class vessels in the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet. Because of its size and design, it is the only ferry capable of serving all 13 ports of call between Homer and Unalaska.

But it has limitations. In addition to age, it can only accommodate 36 vehicles and 174 passengers. There is increasing demand for car deck capacity between Homer and Kodiak.

The timeline for replacing the Tustemena:

  • Glosten Selected for Design November 2013
  • Reconnaissance Report March 2014
  • Environmental Documents June 2014
  • Design Study Report November 2014
  • Construction Manager/General Contractor Procurement January 2019
  • Notice to Proceed CMGC June 2019
  • Preconstruction Phase July 2019 thru June 2020
  • Construction Notice to Proceed June 2020
  • Vessel Construction June 2020 thru November 2022

More information about the replacement project can be found here.


  1. One of the greater risks in any maritime enterprise is known as “delayed replacement.”

      • A 1983 report recommending replacement of the Tusty crossed my desk when we spent a year in the shipyard in 2013-2014. Essentially, the report said the ship wasn’t built to last beyond 20yrs given the conditions it was operating in. We showed them 😉

        So 30yrs is spot on.

  2. How about we retire the M/V Tustumena before something tragic happens? We could take M/V Kennecott off mainline and cross-Gulf service and put her in service on the Tusty routes. She’s bigger than Tusty so there might be some ports she can’t serve because of dock or draft limitations. Frankly, it would be a lot cheaper to pay to modify some docks or even build terminals than to build and operate a new ship.

    As I look at the design specs for the Tusty replacement they’re specifying an 80K pound vehicle elevator, so they’re designing it to haul trailers/containers; why? On the most heavily used route, Homer-Kodiak all the AMHS is is a heavily subsidized competitor to Matson. Frankly, all the freight hauling the AMHS does in Southeast Alaska is just subsidized competition to private carriers.

    I don’t share some of my conservative friends’ passion for privatization, but I firmly believe that the government should not directly compete with private enterprise. I don’t know the private shipping situation out on the Chain, but I know there is some, so why are the People of Alaska being asked to pay for a ship and subsidize and operation for hauling freight to the Chain in competition with private companies?

    • Because Coastal Transportation is the ONLY other shipping company and no one in their right mind would chose them over AMHS to ship a vehicle. And Coastal is break-bulk only, no cans.

    • The ship is safe. AMHS and the USCG restricted operating parameters of the Tustumena after it left the year long shipyard.

      Long time passengers will note that they no longer knowingly sail into storm warnings. 😉

      Whether they replace it or not is a different story. The Kennicott costs 2 or 3 times as much to operate, but can certainly get into most of the ports. Not all, but most.

  3. The Marine Highway is a strange place economically speaking. Years ago the Aurora used to haul up to 100 cargo containers per week between Ketchikan and Hollis on Prince of Wales Island. The the State said it was wrong to do that and gave the cargo container business to a local barge company. The State said it was wrong to make a profit and compete against private enterprise with the ferry system. But in order to make up for the lost revenue derived from cargo containers they raised fares on the passengers and as a result the ridership dropped further.

    On the one hand, the state complains the Marine Highway isn’t earning enough revenue to offset any subsidy, and on the other hand they say it’s wrong for the Marine Highway to earn any money that “might” be in competition with private enterprise. It’s a no win situation.

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