The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Tusty return delayed, again


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

The Alaska Marine Highway System M/V Tustumena at drydock sits in the same cradle it has rested in since work began last November. Virtually all of the exterior painting, cosmetic detailing and systems overhauls and upgrades were finished over a month ago. Completion of the Seward Ship’s Drydock project has been stalled by inspections ordered by the USCG to establish whether the vessel is seaworthy.

One unexpected problem after another kept the Alaska Marine Highway Systems ferry M/V Tustumena from resuming service this summer. Now, AMHS is pointing fingers at alleged defects in welding work performed at Seward Ship’s Drydock. This latest delay in refloating the Tustumena followed at least two earlier discoveries of significant faults in the metal decking, hull plating and structural supports.

The ship has been drydocked at SSD since November, when it checked in for its annual overhaul and long-deferred maintenance. The Seward shipyard picked up the federally subsidized contract to refit the Tustumena at bid for $6.3 million and expected to have the ferry refit completed on schedule by the end of March.

However, by February it was clear that bypassing long-term maintenance took its toll on the 50-year-old ship. Scanning ordered by the United States Coast Guard identified substantially more corrosion throughout the ferry than covered in the original contract. With the change in the scope of work, the ferry system took advantage of the additional downtime to install new control systems and cabling.

According to the updated schedule the Tustumena’s return to service moved to June. Then, with further discoveries and additional work ordered by the ferry system, the date slipped into July. The vessel was due to re-enter the water last week for final operational tests. However, USCG called for one more scan of the metal work done by the Seward shipyard.

Scans are done by using film that reacts to nuclear particles that pass through the metal. Pinkney Cunningham, SSD general manager, told the LOG two weeks ago that a federal permit might be required to ship the radioactive scanning materials from the Lower 48. However, an Anchorage company, Mistras, with the necessary equipment was found and performed the scan the following weekend.

The specialist analyzing the resulting film found apparent defects in welding performed by SSD. The AMHS, reacting to the new information, moved the Tustumena’s return-to-service date to Aug. 20 and made phone calls to affected communities. A DOT spokesperson characterized the further delay a result of repairs not performed to safety standards..

However, according to Cunningham, the film was dark and hard to read and the Anchorage firm is typically called in for pipeline integrity tests, experience which does not necessarily apply to ship hull analysis. With doubts about the conclusions reached using the problematic film, SSD tapped local photographer Alan King from One Shot Photo to enhance the images.

The exposure was too dark to be improved much, so SSD shipped the film to a specialist at the Seattle outfit that designed the analysis plan in the first place. Cunningham said an inspector certified to USCG and American Bureau of Shipping standards is doing a further study of that radiographic scan.

Another Anchorage-based company, Alaska Industrial X-Ray, is set to perform yet another scan of the work this week. They were in Seward checking pipeline for Shoreside Petroleum, Inc. in advance of that company’s fuel terminal expansion and new service to the Alaska Railroad freight dock. AIX took a look at the Tustumena as well as the scanning done so far and signed on to do a follow up study.

According to Cunningham and SSD owner Jim Pruitt, USCG supervised and signed off on each step of the repair project. Based on that oversight and those approvals, both Cunningham and Pruitt anticipate that the questioned welds will be found to meet standards. SSD welders are gouging out welds so that they can be inspected and are then rewelding the metal so that time is not wasted pending the next examination. International Inspection out of Seattle is observing the work and so far they have not found serious defects in the welds done earlier by SSD.

Cunningham is cautiously optimistic although, as he said, “The situation has become a big political football and you never know what is weighing on the decision process.” He expects no further delays on SSD’s part in getting the ferry back into service by the Aug. 20 deadline, as announced by AMHS, regardless of the outcome of the weld analyses.

When USCG signs off on the shipyard’s work, the Tustumena will be refloated. Its crew will go aboard and, at dockside, the ship will undergo numerous operational tests on new and repaired systems including propulsion and safety equipment. When the USCG is satisfied, it will issue a provisional sailing certificate for the ferry to go to Homer for preparations to return to duty.

In any event, the Tustumena will not hit the water until next week because the SSD ship lift is undergoing a scheduled overhaul and recertification. At least two of the 28 cables that lift the deck out of Resurrection Bay tested below standards and will be replaced. Barring complications, the shipyard should be recertified this week by Lloyds Underwriting and avoid any further delays on getting the Tustumena back on course.


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