The Department for Transport said on Tuesday that four parties had expressed interest in the Malaspina, a mainline ferry that has been a mainstay of the fleet since the 1960s. It is the latest twist in the process initiated by the Dunleavy administration to unload an iconic state ferry that has been idle for more than two years.
The Malaspina ferry has not sailed since December 2019. The Dunleavy administration then decided to moor it at a private facility near Ketchikan rather than invest at least $16 million in the steelwork needed for the maintain airworthy.
But even idle, the state is paying more than $75,000 a month in mooring fees and insurance costs at the private Ward Cove facility.
The DOT announced Feb. 18 that an unnamed U.S. buyer who would keep the 450-passenger ship in Alaska was interested. He solicited proposals from other interested parties and secured three more potential buyers before the March 7 deadline.
“Hopefully we have something in there that keeps the Malaspina in Alaska,” DOT spokesman Sam Dapcevich said Wednesday, “and that preserves the historic value of the ship and promotes the maritime highway system. .”
Request for documents reveals interested parties include Ward Cove Dock Group
CoastAlaska filed a public records request with the DOT for the letter to interest potential buyers. This was denied by the agency who said they would only release them after the sale was finalized.
But he released the names of four interested parties. At the top of the list is M/V Malaspina, a limited liability company incorporated on March 7, the deadline set by the DOT for expressing interest in the ferry. His agent is listed as John Binkley, a prominent Fairbanks Republican.
He also owns half of the Ward Cove Dock Group with the Spokely family of Ketchikan, a partnership with the family business which is paid by the state to store the Malaspina and other unused marine road vessels.
Binkley confirmed he and his partners were interested, but said he wasn’t ready to talk about it.
Other interested parties were more open.
“We love these projects – we like to think big and nothing really scares us,” said Cordova’s Greg Meyer. He and his wife own a waterfront restaurant in the community of Prince William Sound. He says his family was sad when the Taku ferry was sold for scrap in 2018.
The Malaspina could be refitted on tidal areas that are part of a former Cordova cannery property that they own and use the ship’s cabins.
“We would be interested in converting the ferry into a floating hotel/restaurant,” Meyer wrote in his cover letter to the state.
There are other potential uses for the former passenger ferry, he told CoastAlaska.
“Cordova has a housing shortage,” Meyer said by phone. “And we have seasonal workers who can never find accommodation in the summer. So that would help us stimulate our economy.
Another interested party is Meridian Global Consulting, a company based in Mobile, Alabama, which said in its letter that it has three vessels of similar size.
“Meridian’s intention in purchasing the Malaspina is to use it as a floating hotel and
restaurant in and around Alaska,” wrote company owner Jonathan McConnell.
But the interest of the company depends on the conditions set by the state agency.
“If they’re going to ask, you know, $4 million for this ship, then it’s not worth it,” McConnell said by phone from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
This is not the first time he has approached the state to buy the Malaspina. Last year, Meridian offered $625,000 to convert the ship into a floating barracks. It would house security contractors working to protect international shipping off the Horn of Africa.
But now the state says it wants the Malaspinas to stay in Alaska. And he says his company could do it. McConnell says he’s talking to partners in Alaska to make it a floating attraction.
“It’s a pretty neat experience to be able to eat a meal aboard an old, beautiful ship,” McConnell added.
The fourth interested party is HighSeas, Ltd which according to the DOT is registered in India. A BBC investigation last year the company bought a historic British liner at auction saying it would be used as a floating hotel in Dubai. But it was demolished for scrap.
The company president did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The state seeks to avoid a Taku scenario
Regional DOT spokesman Sam Dapcevich said his agency recognizes there has been commercial interest in the vessel. But he wants to make sure the Malaspina ends with dignity.
“The state doesn’t want the ship to end up derelict somewhere because someone bought it and couldn’t afford to take care of it,” Dapcevich said. “We’d rather it not be cut for scrap, like what happened with the Takus years ago.”
Other ideas floated last year included scuttling the Malaspina in deep water. Governor Dunleavy had also offered to give it to the Philippines. But state officials say the Manila government was not interested.
The DOT has not committed to any timelines, but says any transfer would have to be approved by the federal government because of the federal dollars used for its upkeep.