Anchorage Daily News: Sen. Murkowski christens new Mat-Su ferry

The ferry M/V Susitna was christened Friday morning in Ketchikan before a crowd of dignitaries, Navy officials, state legislators and people who worked on the vessel.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski broke a bottle of champagne over the bow. She told the audience, which included her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, that the ship brought good attention to her hometown of Ketchikan and to the state. The ferry is a nearly 1,000-ton catamaran-style vessel, 198 feet long and 55 feet tall. Its twin hulls are designed to break through 2 feet of ice, and it can carry up to 134 people and 20 or more vehicles.

The $70 million vessel was built as an experimental craft for study by the Office of Naval Research, which paid for most of its construction. It has a moveable barge deck that can be raised 21 feet in 10 minutes. With the deck raised, the ferry can operate as a twin-hulled ship at 20 knots. Lowered, equipment can be off-loaded onto beaches without the need for a dock, a feature with military appeal.

"Of course, amphibious operations are not new to the Navy, but amphibious operations ... are continuously evolving. And the key to this idea is a connector ship with designed features like Susitna's, with an advanced hull that raises and lowers, enabling it to transform for different modes of operation," Rear Admiral Nevin P. Carr Jr., chief of Naval Research, said at the christening.

Alaska Ship & Drydock Inc. built the ship. At peak production, the company employed 200 workers, 90 of whom were solely working on the Susitna. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough will own the ship when it's completed, but the Office of Naval Research will get data for five years from about 1,000 sensors on board the vessel, information that the office will use to determine what kinds of landing craft are useful for its purposes, according to the Mat-Su Borough.

The christening took place while the ship was in drydock, where it awaits finishing touches. It will begin sea trials in August and will winter over in Ketchikan. The borough plans to use the ferry ultimately to provide commuter service between Anchorage and Mat-Su. The community of Tyonek is also interested in regular ferry service to Anchorage. However, ferry landings in upper Cook Inlet have not yet been built. A landing on the Mat-Su side of Knik Arm is expected to be built in late 2011. Mat-Su and Anchorage officials are still discussing where the ferry should land in Anchorage.

While in Southeast, Mat-Su Borough Manager John Duffy spoke with representatives of Coffman Cove about using the ship for ferry service until it comes to Mat-Su. The borough has also offered the vessel for use in the interim in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup effort and for temporary use by the Alaska Marine Highway System.

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Source: By Rindi White. Published June 11, 2010