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The Malaspina ferry could be reborn as a museum for the Alaska Marine Highway

Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 3:45 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The state of Alaska has entered negotiations for a proposal to sell the state ferry Malaspina to the owners of a private cruise ship dock in Ketchikan’s Ward Cove.

Malaspina, one of the first Alaska Marine Highway vessels could be reborn after 59 years as a museum for the history of the state ferry system. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced on Monday that it has entered into negotiations to sell the ferry to an Alaska-based buyer — M/V Malaspina LLC.

John Binkley, the president of M/V Malaspina LLC, is the man behind the negotiations to turn the boat into a museum. He has a long family history in Alaska. His father was born and raised in 1920 in Southeast Alaska, and understood the isolation in that part of the state in ways Binkley said those from Interior or Southcentral Alaska might not.

Binkley remembers his father talking about how the creation of the marine highway pulled people together. When he speaks about the Malaspina, he speaks with passion.

“She is a beautiful, beautiful ship,” begins Binkley. “Long elegant lines, a graceful bow, beautiful tumblehome stern, and a gorgeous funnel that has the eight stars of the Alaska flag on it. And I just love it.”

The Malaspina has become too old for everyday use and has been sitting idle in the Ward Cove since December 2019. Keeping the boat tied up is costing the state $75,000 per month, Binkley said. The state has considered scrapping the boat and also sinking it.

According to the state transportation department’s announcement, a letter of interest from M/V Malaspina LLC outlines plans for the ferry to be used as a maritime museum to showcase Alaska’s history and support tourism businesses based in Ketchikan.

“Among other uses, they propose keeping the Malaspina in Ketchikan and using the vessel as a maritime museum,” the press release states. “They also propose to explore opportunities for the ship to serve as a training facility for the University of Alaska’s Maritime Training Center in Ketchikan.”

Binkley feels the ferry is a part of history, something to celebrate and something for future generations, so he would rather see the boat put to use as a museum to preserve the past while supporting the marine highway. He said that 400,000 visitors come through Ketchikan every year and his hope is if tourists come back again, they’ll want to ride on the Alaska Marine Highway and see more of Southeast Alaska.

The terms of the deal including the price of the ferry have yet to be finalized. Negotiations with the state are already in process but no time frame has been announced.

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