Vigor Alaska Ketchikan shipyard workers gather to watch the Tazlina get lowered into the water at the shipyard’s drydock in mid-May. A christening celebration was Saturday, and on Monday possible layoffs were announced. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Vigor Alaska’s shipyard in Ketchikan is potentially laying off up to 80 local employees this winter, as the company wraps up construction of two Alaska Marine Highway System ferries.

Doug Ward is a Vigor spokesman. He said it was a difficult decision for Vigor management, especially right after Saturday’s big christening celebration for the new ferry Tazlina.

Ward said work on the Tazlina’s sister ship, the Hubbard, is proceeding quickly. Once that’s done, there’s no current construction work scheduled at the Ketchikan shipyard.

Ward said they wanted to give local employees time to plan, so on Monday they announced potential layoffs of 50 to 80 permanent employees. That’s on top of the approximately 100 contract employees brought in for specialized work on the Hubbard. Ward said those contract workers will be let go first.

While layoffs are disappointing, Ward said it’s not a surprise.

“This business is project driven,” he said. “So, the contact workers, for example, they move around the country from job to job.”

Ward adds that shipyards across the nation are hurting.

“Right now, the shipbuilding market in North America is the worst that anybody has ever seen,” he said.

Ward was speaking from Anchorage, where he’s trying to drum up more business for the Ketchikan shipyard. He said there are a few projects he’s working on getting, and there’s also potential to help build the state’s replacement for the ferry Tustumena.

That ferry would be too big to be built primarily in Ketchikan, but Ward said the local shipyard might be able to provide support for one of the other Vigor Industrial shipyards in the Lower 48.

That $220 million project will be federally funded, so Vigor would be competing with other shipyards nationwide for the contract.

If the Ketchikan yard does see new work soon, Ward said, the local workers would be the first to be rehired.

“As a matter of fact, we’re looking internally to move them to other projects even in other yards, out of state, admittedly, but keep them in the Vigor family,” he said.

In the meantime, Ward said he’s looking beyond marine work for the Ketchikan shipyard. He’s also talking to oil and gas industry representatives about potential projects that could be completed in Ketchikan.