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Alaskan Ferries Expand Service With COVID-19 Restrictions

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AMHS ferry Kennicott seen here is expected to resume service later in the month (file photo)

By The Maritime Executive 06-05-2020 05:47:30

The Alaska Marine Highway System, which operates 10 ferries providing inter-state transportation links within Alaska, announced several system-wide changes designed to enhance its COVID-19 mitigation protocols that will also have a significant impact of service.

Despite cutbacks to its budget and on-going political infighting over funding the ferries, which has led to equipment problems, the ferry system has continued to operate even during the current public health emergency. Service, however, had been limited with two operating ferries and for example cancellation of service to Prince Rupert, British Columbia where COVID-19 related restrictions delayed work to bring the Prince Rupert Terminal into compliance with federal regulations.

After experiencing very low ridership levels during the height of the outbreak of COVID-19, a third vessel, the Tustumena, recently returned to service. In mid-May, Governor Mike Dunleavy had relaxed some of the state’s travel restrictions permitting travel between communities on the roads and Alaska Marine Highway System. Ridership has begun to increase with the summer season and the relaxed travel restrictions.

To protect the health and safety of its customers and employees, the Alaska Marine Highway System announced that it would be taking steps including reducing capacity on the ferries to approximately one-third of the normal seating capacity to maintain social distancing onboard. Passengers will also have to complete a health screening before boarding and are encouraged to wear a face-covering onboard. Food service is also being modified onboard and cleaning will be increased.

After adding the third vessel to its schedule the system anticipates that two additional ferries, the Kennicott and the LeConte, will return to service later in the month.

Beginning in June, all travelers arriving into the state of Alaska are being required to complete a health questionnaire and either have completed within 72-hours a negative COVID-19 PCR test, take a test on arrival in Alaska, or self-quarantine for 14-days.

Because of the restrictions at this time on the number of passengers permitted to board the ferries, Alaska is encouraging all travelers to make advance reservations or risk being turned away at the ferry.