Built at a cost of $80 million in 2010, the Susitna, a variable-draft landing-craft prototype, has finally been sold for $1.75 million. The buyer is the Philippine Red Cross.

The vessel was shipped to the Philippines by barge, and local media reported that it arrived Dec. 2. Next, modifications will prepare the 195'×60' twin-hull, four-waterjet vessel for disaster relief and emergency services.

“There are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, many of which have no facilities whatsoever,” said Lew Madden, a retired Navy captain who has shepherded the Susitna project from its inception at Lockheed in the early 2000s.

Madden also represented the Susitna’s owner, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in Alaska, during the sale. “The buyers should use it pretty much as it was designed, except for the icebreaking, of course.”

The Mat-Su Borough had originally intended to use the boat as a ferry across Cook Inlet, northeast of Anchorage, even though the boat was designed and built as a landing craft. It was largely financed by the Office of Naval Research, which saw it as an expeditionary concept to land troops and equipment on unimproved beaches.

But the borough never built the necessary infrastructure to operate the ferry and has been trying to sell the boat since 2012. The vessel was built at Alaska Ship & Drydock (now Vigor Alaska) in Ketchikan, Alaska, and delivered in 2010.

The sale was complicated by engine damage sustained during a storm a couple years ago while tied up near Ketchikan. Rainwater flooded all four engines, unbeknownst by the engineer who turned them over during a monthly warmup.

All four MTU 12V4000 engines had to be rebuilt at a cost of at least $1 million. “The insurance will probably cover the cost, but the borough is still arguing with them,” said Madden.

The boat will be modified to carry more weight and its passenger areas will be converted to berthing, office and clinic space.

“They’re getting a heck of a bargain and I’m happy to see it find a home,” Madden said. “It would have been a shame to never see it go to work.”

The Susitna was selected by WorkBoat as one of its Significant Boats of 2010.

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).