For the first time in just under three years, more than 83 passengers and 39 vehicles disembarked from the first in three years Alaska to Prince Rupert voyage of the MV Matanuska ferry on June 20.
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry returned to Ketchican with 107 passengers headed Stateside and 55 vehicles on June 21, ending the service interruption caused by new border requirements and the coronavirus.
“Prince Rupert is a valuable mainland link for Alaska, and we intend to keep it open for travellers in the years to come,” said Commissioner Ryan Anderson, Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF).
“I’m pleased to announce that, through our department’s efforts and our partnerships with the Canadian government and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, we are sailing to Prince Rupert again,” he said.
The last ferry of the service ran in October 2019 while the Canadian and American governments worked on upgrading the requirements to immigration preclearance requirements. However, the ferry was scheduled to run from May 2020 to September 2020, when the pandemic hit and service needed to be cancelled.
Ferry service between Prince Rupert and Alaska had encountered several issues, from the need for RCMP officers to be present to keep American border officials safe, budgetary constraints and a dispute over dock repairs as previously reported in The Northern View on Jan 23, 2020.
“We’re currently still working on logistics, and I will allow the state to make comments regarding the terminal upgrades once they are ready,” Mayor Lee Brain said at the time.
Changes to the facility, leased to the AMHS by the Port of Prince Rupert, were needed to enable the location to be upgraded from “pre-inspection” to “preclearance” operations. These changes included high-speed data to the terminal, installation of a U.S. government-approved document and weapons safe and installation of a security system for the terminal building. Further upgrades to the facility will be required over the next two years, states a media release from the DOT&PF on June 21.
“Prince Rupert is an important connection for commerce and passenger traffic in the Alaska Marine Highway System, especially for southern Southeast Alaska,” Governor Mike Dunleavy said. “There are significant cultural and family ties that will benefit from this service. I anticipate increased service in the future now that federal requirements in both Canada and the United States have been met.”
The ferry is scheduled to sail return visits from Ketchican to Prince Rupert twice monthly from June to Sept, with the Canadian city the last stop for driving travellers on the east to west Highway 16 road. The ferry voyage between the two locations is just over six hours long. According to the DOT&PF, Prince Rupert was the original southern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway from 1963 to 1967, when the sailing route was extended to Seattle.
K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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