Tales from Wasilla: The M/V Susitna and the FOIA Followup

M/V Susitna on alleged sea trials, photo via WikiMedia

M/V Susitna on alleged sea trials, photo via WikiMedia

Readers may recall that WC wrote at length on the sorry, sordid tale of the Mat-Su Borough and the M/V Susitna. And that back in November 2015 WC was waiting on a Freedom of Information Act request on the sea trials of the Navy’s unwanted protoype vessel.

WC’s FOIA request has finally been answered. Well, partially answered. After a fashion. WC asked three questions. Those questions, and the Navy’s answers,1 follow:

a. Were Sea Trials conducted? Yes, a limited three day test period was completed that combined Builders Trials and Sea Trials.

b. What was the outcome of Sea Trials (i.e . Navy comments about the crafts performance)? The two short trials were conducted successfully.

c. Any types of records that the Navy possess as to what was right/wrong with the craft as we viewed it? Due to the cancelation of the project, there was no funding available to analyze the data collected, therefore, no formal documents or records that summarize the Navy’s evaluation of the E-Craft exist.

They certainly didn’t tell WC much, but what the Navy did say tells you more than you might think at first glance. The vessel cost about $80 million to build and yet had only a three day test. By contrast, the University of Alaska’s new research ship the Sikuliaq, had four months of sea trials, and was sent back from another few months of fine tuning. And then the project was cancelled. There was never a formal evaluation. WC supposes it is possible that the Navy just threw away $80 million. But the sense you get is that, however “successful” the sea trials were, the Navy wanted no part of of this experimental vessel.

Or the Navy is lying to WC.

Still, jobs were created in Ketchikan on the construction of this prototype, and doubtlessly U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent on sillier things. Maybe it was never anything more than an unusually large and expensive slab of Uncle Ted’s bacon.

But it does make you wonder what Mat Su Borough was thinking.

  1. Letter C. J. Howk, FOIA Coordinator, Office of the General Counsel, Department of the Navy to WC dated May 10, 2016. 

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