UPDATE: Unknown to almost anyone living outside of Alaska, another passenger ship had five guests test positive for coronavirus. Somehow, this second ship hasn’t made it to the news, yet.
Second Ship to Cruise Alaska Forced to Suspend Service
Chances are you probably haven’t heard of the Alaska Marine Highway System. It’s a network of small passenger and cargo vessels that link many of Alaska’s roadless communities and islands to other towns via the sea.
The larger ferries, complete with dining rooms and cabins, carry passengers, cars, RVs and trucks over a thousand miles between Bellingham, Washington and Whittier, Alaska. Called Mainline Ferries, they are a lifeline for the state and a fabulous way to cruise Alaska.
Three days ago, five passengers who had traveled aboard mainline ferry M/V Matanuska, alerted the ferry company that they had tested positive for COVID-19. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services believes that these passengers were infectious while on the vessel.
The passengers boarded M/V Matanuska in Kake on the morning of August 10, passed through Sitka around 11 a.m. the same day, and arrived in Juneau at 11 p.m. That’s when they notified the Marine Highway. Health protocol requires no passengers or crew may disembark at a port unless it’s their destination.
Kake is a very small, isolated community of about 450 people. Taking the ferry to Juneau for a shopping trip is a regular activity.
The Matanuska arrived on schedule at Bellingham, Washington on Friday morning. The crew has to undergo testing before the ship is allowed to embark new passengers for the northbound trip.
Matanuska sailings canceled for a week
All Matanuska sailings are canceled through August 20th due to crew COVID testing requirements. If all goes as planned, Matanuska will begin its northbound departure from Bellingham at 6:00PM on Friday, August 21st.
The outbreak is still under investigation but the health department has not been able to identify any close contacts that the infected passengers might have have with other passengers or crew.
According to their website, the Alaska Marine Highway System requires all passengers and crew to follow protocols to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Protocols include testing before departure on lengthy sailings, mandatory face coverings, social distancing, limiting the number of passengers permitted on the vessels, and frequent and thorough cleaning of our ships.
There were 150 people onboard the Matanuska. The ship is only carrying a maximum of 125 passengers during the pandemic.