Alaska Editorial: Old boats

This editorial first appeard in the Ketchikan Daily News:

It’s not the case with people, of course. But with boats, when the average age of the “family” is 32.27 years including the short-haul “baby” Lituya, at 9, and two fast ferries that don’t do long runs over open ocean that’s an old bunch of boats.

And so it is that we continue to get announcements from the Alaska Marine Highway System about delays due to mechanical issues. The ferries that can make the long hauls the ones we depend on desperately as our road here in Southeast include the trio of 50-year-olds, the Malaspina, Matanuska and Taku, with the Tustumena, at 49, not far behind.

Of course there are mechanical issues. The latest was Monday, on the teenage Kennicott (15). The ferry was eight hours behind due to a mechanical issue and then tidal delays.

Things happen; the crews respond quickly and as efficiently as safety and supplies will allow. Our point is not to blame those who do the heavy lifting on our highway system for problems beyond their control.

Our point is that we need to shake a leg and get more ferries built. We regret the time lost to changing horses in mid-stream, moving from Alaska Class ferries to day boats. But that change is under way, so let’s get the job done.

For those now wondering, here are the ages of the vessels comprising our highway: The Aurora is 36; Chenega (fast ferry), 8; Columbia, 39; Kennicott, 15; LeConte, 40; Lituya and Fairweather (fast ferry), each 9; Malaspina, Matanuska and Taku, each 50; and the Tustumena, 49.

They’re great old gals, many of them, and we love them. But we need to get to the Lower 48, and to points north reliably.

The younger generation needs to be ready when it’s time to step up, and the time is nigh.

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