Fishing vessels around Cordova Harbor. File photo by David Little for The Cordova Times

By Larry Persily 

Even in winter, there are hot opportunities. And since the state’s prospects for economic well-being are in short supply these days — like being short of buyers for Alaska salmon, running short of energy for Southcentral residents and businesses, and falling woefully short of funding for public schools — the state needs to grab whatever unexpected opportunities arise. 

Alaskans have long prided themselves on ingenuity, making something anew from the discard piles left behind by others. In this case, there are six ice-class liquefied natural gas carriers sitting in South Korean shipyards that need a new home. Why not Alaska? 

The shipyards can’t deliver three of the vessels to the Russian company that ordered the custom-built tankers. State-controlled Sovcomflot canceled its order amid Western sanctions intended to hurt an Arctic gas project majority owned by Russian company Novatek. 

And the shipbuilder has three more of the high-cost, double-hulled ships that were supposed to go out on charter to Japan-based Mitsui OSK Lines. But Mitsui last month said it no longer would put the carriers to use on the Russian gas project, Arctic LNG-2, because of the sanctions. It needs to sell the ships. 

The tankers run about $300 million each, at least 20% more than the price of a conventional LNG carrier. It costs a lot of money to harden a ship to run through six-foot-thick Arctic sea ice. 


Between the high cost and international politics, the special-built ships are about as marketable as canned farmed pink salmon in Alaska. 

Therein lies the opportunity. 

Alaska needs to accept the reality that no matter how many more millions of dollars it burns up on its dream of a North Slope natural gas pipeline project, it’s going nowhere. The state-backed mirage has no investors, no partners, no gas, no customers, no financing and no market. There is money to be made in gas — but not our gas. 

Just as some investors make money in bankruptcies by buying buildings, businesses or inventory on the cheap, Alaska should make an offer for the unwanted LNG carriers. Start with a lowball offer; not a lot of buyers out there. 

Instead of losing money on politically inspired oil field and mining road investments, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority could get into the shipowner business. 

Of course, we would have to rename the vessels, but think of the statewide contest open to school kids. Maybe instead of a certificate, the winning school could get additional state funding to keep teachers employed. 

Maybe the state could lease the tankers to the multinational partners in the LNG export terminal nearing completion next door in Kitimat, British Columbia. The tankers are too expensive to run if you buy them at list price, but get ‘em on the cheap and they could be moneymakers. 

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute could paint attractive and delectable images of fresh wild salmon on the hulls for consumers across the world to see. If you thought the Alaska Airlines Salmon 737 was an eyecatcher, imagine a bright sockeye on the side of a 1,000-foot-ship pulling into Asian and European ports. 

Even if we needed a little federal smudging and fudging of western sanctions to pick up the ships at a bargain rate, take ownership and lease them out, I expect Alaska’s congressional delegation would be happy to support an effort to make money for the state and stick it to Russia. 

Someone is going to buy those ships at a cut rate; it might as well be Alaska’s next dream. It’s the closest the state will ever get to profiting from an Arctic gas project. 

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal public policy work in Alaska and Washington, D.C. He lives in Anchorage and is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.