Alaska ferry Malaspina sold for second life as a floating museum in Ketchikan

One of Alaska’s original ferries has been officially sold, and it is now set to get a second life as a floating museum a few miles outside of Ketchikan.
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 4:31 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - One of Alaska’s original ferries has been officially sold, and it is now set to get a second life as a floating museum a few miles outside of Ketchikan.

The M/V Malaspina, which came into service in 1963, has been sitting idle for close to three years. The state of Alaska has been paying $450,000 a year since then to store and maintain the ship.

On Wednesday, businessman John Binkley officially bought the ferry for $128,250. He said the Malaspina will be reborn as a museum with a planned collection of memorabilia.

“Really to preserve history, to celebrate the men and women who have for decades served Alaskans as crewmembers on the Alaska Marine Highway System,” Binkley added.

There is also a plan to use the ferry for worker housing and to help train future mariners. But Binkley says it is “daunting” how much work will need to be done before the ferry opens to the public, which he hopes will happen next spring or summer.

The ferry’s paint is peeling, it’s streaked with rust, and pipes have burst inside. Binkley says it will take “tender loving care” to get the electrical and water systems working again for guests. When asked how much it might cost to restore, Binkley said, “I don’t want to know,” while laughing.

The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities says it has sold five state ferries in the past 20 years. The M/V Taku was scrapped in 2018 and two of Alaska’s fast ferries were sold last year, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean for a second life in Spain.

The Malaspina, known affectionately as “The Queen of the Fleet,” was taken out of service in 2019. There were estimates it would cost upwards of $70 million to get it sailing again.

The state had offered to give the Malaspina to the Philippines government for free, and there were discussions about scuttling it to save on storage costs. Its second life as a museum is being pitched as a way “to preserve her legacy.”

”As the former Queen of the Fleet, and first mainline vessel built, we didn’t want just any future for the Malaspina, and we certainly did not want her sold for scrap metal. This gives her a retirement we can be proud of,” said Capt. John Falvey, general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System, through a prepared statement.

Binkley is head of the Ward Cove Group, which manages a new cruise ship complex seven miles outside of Ketchikan on the site of an old logging mill. The visitors center will welcome tens of thousands of cruise ship passengers each year.

Visitors are set to learn about the Tongass National Forest and the region’s history of logging. Soon, cruise ship passengers, school kids and Alaskans in general, will be able to come and learn more about the Alaska Marine Highway System.

“Let’s keep our history here, and let’s celebrate it,” Binkley said. “It’s a fantastic history that we have, and a wonderful transportation system. And so many people in other parts of Alaska don’t even know about it, what it means to coastal Alaska.

“And how hard those people on those ferries worked every day to serve Alaskans, and we want to celebrate that, we want to highlight that, and really pay honor to them, and the whole transportation system that we rely on down here in Southeast.”

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