After nearly 3 years, the Alaska Marine Highway resumes service to Prince Rupert, BC

An Alaska State Ferry waiting at a dock
The Matanuska waits at the Ketchikan State Ferry Terminal on June 20, 2022, the day of the first Alaska Marine Highway System service to Prince Rupert, BC since 2019. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Ferry service from southeast Alaska to northern British Columbia resumed Monday after nearly three years.

For Lindsay Swaim, who has been waiting in Ketchikan since 2019 to board the first state ferry bound for Prince Rupert, the route’s return means she can see her family again.

“It means everything to me. I can go downstairs and visit my grandma who I haven’t seen in over two years,” she said while waiting to board on Monday.

Her parents are in Prince Rupert taking care of her grandmother who is in her 90’s. Swaim says traveling without the ferry was impractical.

“To see them I’d have to fly to Seattle on a propeller plane, from Seattle to Vancouver, from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, and that’s just pretty ridiculous — and a ferry can get there in six hours,” she said.

Swaim was one of 83 passengers who took the Matanuska Ferry to Prince Rupert on the first trip since ferry officials put the route on hold in September 2019 over a dispute over whether U.S. Customs officials can carry guns. But now, after some security upgrades and other renovations at the terminal, the route is back in service.

Scott Milner is another passenger waiting outside the Ketchikan Ferry Terminal to board. He says the return of the shortest ferry service connecting Ketchikan to the North American road network means he can once again take his eight dogs to agility competitions down south.

“Probably the most famous is Bolt, who won the United States Dog Agility Pairs competition at their World Games in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2016,” he said. “Angus is an AKC Masters agility champion and then we have two new puppies that we are training right now and that’s what this journey is about.”

He is planning a month-long road trip through Canada and several states with his four Chihuahuas and four Shetland Sheepdogs.

A woman and a child sit in the back of an SUV and wave
Donita O’Dell and daughter Merit wave to the camera as they wait to board the Matanuska bound for Prince Rupert. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Donita O’Dell is also planning a road trip. After driving to Seattle for a doctor’s appointment, she plans to drop off a vehicle with a family member in Idaho to prepare for another trip next month. She says it’s the first time her four-year-old daughter Merit has been on a state ferry.

“These are the kind of experiences that we have a hard time giving her because we definitely can’t afford to bring a trailer and the truck to Bellingham and then take two weeks for a family vacation and then come back up,” she said.

State Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, was also on board the first trip to BC. He says the return of the Prince Rupert route is a big deal for Southeast Alaska.

“For many reasons – history, culture, the whole thing. Prince Rupert has been an important part of the overall package that the Marine Highway System has offered over the years,” he said. “And when it wasn’t there, boy, have I heard from people who miss it?”

A man in a blue windbreaker leans against a white car
State Assemblyman Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, poses for a photo while waiting to board the first state ferry from Alaska to Prince Rupert, BC since 2019. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Ortiz says it’s also a way for him to visit constituents – he plans to visit the tiny hamlet of Hyder for the first time in two years.

Everyone KRBD spoke to was happy to see the Prince Rupert route back online. But there’s one constant complaint: residents say they want more runs. Only seven round trips are planned until September, so about two per month.

State transport officials say they hope to schedule more frequent calls after some ships are overhauled and put back into service.

“As the summer 2022 operational plan was being developed, placeholders for Prince Rupert were placed in the schedule as we continued to work out pre-clearance issues with US and Canadian Customs. Given our limited fleet and crew numbers, this twice-monthly schedule is an incremental improvement, and as AMHS works to hire more crew and commission more ships, service to Prince Rupert may be expanded in future schedules,” said DOT spokesman Sam Dapcevich in a statement.

The fall and winter schedule will be published in August.

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