Stricken Alaska ferry sees passengers stranded for a week in Juneau

 Crew from Vigor Industrial shipyard in Ketchikan working to repair the Matanuska. (01/31/2020)
Crew from Vigor Industrial shipyard in Ketchikan working to repair the Matanuska. (01/31/2020) (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 31, 2020 at 6:50 PM AKST
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A stricken Alaska ferry has seen passengers stranded onboard for almost a week, repairs aren’t expected to be completed for another week still.

The Matanuska broke down in Bellingham before problems emerged again on the way to Juneau. The ship limped into Auke Bay and has been stationary since Sunday morning.

Many passengers were able to take a charter onto other destinations, 26 were less fortunate, travelling with cars and pets.

By Friday the stranded passenger list had dropped to 21 with some choosing to barge a car to Haines. Many of those left behind are planning to wait until Feb. 8 when the next sailing north is scheduled to Haines and Skagway.

That sailing will be contingent on repairs being completed.

The Alaska Marine Highway System has refunded the cost of the trip and provided free meals for those on board. A bar area has been converted to a kennel, complete with a tarpaulin lain down on the floor, so pets don't have to spend all day in the drafty car deck.

Passengers can drive out during the day and return to sleep and eat in the evening.

Many of the passengers are military members being deployed to Alaska, as they are active duty they are prevented from speaking to the media without permission from higher-ups. Repeatedly they stressed the great food and how incredibly kind the crew have been.

One military member new to Alaska said he couldn’t travel onwards leave his dog and he didn’t know how he’d get time off to come back to Haines. Waiting for repairs to be finished is his only choice.

Others took a longer-than-expected vacation in their stride. Jerry Stroebele, an Anchorage resident, said while smiling broadly, “I’ve got no complaints whatsoever.”

Captain Dave Turner says offers have been made to keep cars on board until Haines so that passengers can continue on and come back to pick up their vehicles later.

“It’s super frustrating,” said Keegan Krantz, a resident of Prince of Wales Island. Krantz is in the process of relocating to Palmer along with dog Nootka.

He spoke about his annoyance of a reduced winter ferry service schedule to Southeast Alaska, saying the region is highly-dependent on Alaska’s ferries.

Krantz is deciding to fly and barge his car north. He or someone else will need to come down to Haines and drive all the way back to Anchorage.

The source of the problem with the Matanuska is a cooling system for a reduction gear. The broken unit is under warranty, said Sam Dapcevich, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation.

Chief Engineer Eric Downer is directing repairs and awaiting parts from Rolls Royce. The ferry is just back in Alaska after a two-year overhaul in Portland.

The Matanuska has only been back on the water since around Thanksgiving.

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