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Congress clears way for ferry, other construction in Ketchikan

Alaska Ship & Drydock gets Jones Act clearance for ferry project

Posted: November 25, 2011 - 12:06am

Sen. Mark Begich is working to make sure the federal government is clear the Ketchikan Shipyard is a shipyard, and not a vessel. To do that, it seems, will take an act of Congress.

That’s not as crazy as it might seem, said Doug Ward, spokesman for Alaska Ship & Drydock, the Ketchikan company that operates the state-owned shipyard.

“We wouldn’t have asked Congress to act if it weren’t important to do,” Ward said.

The federal Jones Act requires ships carrying cargo between U.S. ports be built, flagged and crewed in the United States, but the Ketchikan Shipyard’s Drydock No. 2 was built in China.

A provision in federal legislation that Begich recently introduced will clarify that vessels moved while in the drydock are not violating the Jones Act, he said.

“It was clear to everyone the drydock was not moving cargo between U.S. ports in violation of the Jones Act,” Begich said in a statement issued by his office.

Ward said the issue has arisen when the shipyard is bidding for contracts, and with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, they wanted to make sure they didn’t place that business at risk.

“We always felt we were on pretty safe ground, but having that open question out there when you are dealing with contracts was something that we wanted to remove,” Ward said.

Alaska Ship & Drydock said Begich’s legislation makes it clear the new Alaska-class ferry can be built in Ketchikan.

“By putting this issue to rest, jobs are protected and the shipyard can continue its efforts to develop its facilities to maintain and construct vessels such as the Alaska-class ferries,” Begich said.

The shipyard, owned by the state’s Alaska Industrial Development & Export Authority, recently completed construction of the ferry Susitna for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough government, and has been selected to work on the Alaska Marine Highway’s new Alaska-class ferry.

The shipyard provided between 50 and 150 direct jobs in Ketchikan, and is part of a state-sponsored effort to develop an industrial maritime industry in the Southeastern hub city.

Ward said he did not dispute some shipyards may have drydocks that move vessels such a distance that the Jones Act might apply, but that while the Ketchikan Shipyard’s drydock floats; it is not used in that manner.

“It remains firmly affixed to shore,” at all times, Ward said.

Begich said that tethering to the shore means the Ketchikan drydock is consistent with the Jones Act.

The lone bidder to build the specialized drydock was in China, and due to the layout of the shipyard, the drydock moves a few hundred feet whenever a vessel is being lifted or launched.

Begich’s legislative language is part of House Resolution 3321, which addresses several Jones Act matters. A release from Begich’s office states that measure has passed both houses of Congress, but still needs President Barack Obama’s signature.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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