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State marketing used ferry on eBay

Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Among the gigabytes of used golf clubs, antique furniture and other residential castaways regularly hawked at the popular online auction site eBay is an unusual bargain: A 1,500-ton Alaska ferry, capable of carrying an entire neighborhood ... and their cars.

Faced with a limited market to unload the 34-year-old ship, the state of Alaska has turned to eBay in the hopes of finding a buyer.

State property manager Jim Jobkar hopes eBay will link Alaska with a buyer in need of a 193-foot vessel capable of carrying about 30 cars and 236 passengers.

''EBay is going to provide the worldwide visibility, the potential worldwide visibility for the asset,'' Jobkar said. ''There are millions and millions of people that use eBay.''

Within a week the state had met its minimum asking price, with bids climbing to $300,000 by Tuesday evening. Bidding continues until 1:34 p.m. Sunday.

''I would expect the activity to pick up a little bit towards the end,'' Jobkar said. ''That's typical of other eBay sales.''

The state paid $3.25 million to have the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry E.L. Bartlett built in 1969. The ship is still ferrying people and vehicles around Prince William Sound this summer, but the ferry system's operations manager, Jack Meyers, said its service will end in October.

The state can't justify spending the money needed to meet new federal safety requirements, especially since the older ship can be replaced with a new, faster ferry paid for entirely with federal funds, Meyers said.

But that doesn't mean the ship isn't a good buy for someone, Meyers said. It could be used in a country with different safety standards, could carry freight or could even serve as a very large private yacht.

''It's in good shape,'' Meyers said. ''The engines are operating well.''

Other states have also turned to eBay to unload surplus government property.

The state of Oregon started putting items up for bid on eBay in 1998 and found they were selling for twice what they were bringing at the state's surplus outlet, said Cindy Becker, assistant director of Oregon's Department of Administrative Services.

''It was kind of a no-brainer when we saw that,'' Becker said.

Now the state sells about 90 percent of its surplus property through the online auction house, and for an administrative fee, also handles eBay sales for local governments and the federal government in Oregon.

In addition to the usual desks and computer equipment, Oregon has sold airplanes, horses and is currently pitching a strip mall and its contents, not including the land it sits on.

Oregon has also used eBay to sell bags of ''sharp objects'' like nail files and pocketknives confiscated by anti-terrorism monitors at the Port of Portland.

''We have a couple hundred items on eBay a week,'' Becker said. ''So far this year we've made 7 million dollars.''

Doing business on eBay is not such a sure thing for Alaska, though.

Since most of Alaska is more than 1,000 miles from the Lower 48, shipping costs can scare off potential customers or depress bid prices.

Jobkar said Alaska tried to sell some vehicles on eBay a few years ago, but gave up because the bids were too low.

Jobkar decided it was worth trying again with the ferry, since even in a state with thousands of miles of coastline, the market for a 193-foot ferry is slim.

The state does not want the vessel sitting around eating up money. Putting the ship up just for the winter costs close to $500 a day in moorage fees, security and other costs, said Paul Johnsen, senior port engineer for the ferry system.

Before the advent of eBay, the state might have advertised the surplus boat in shipping publications or turned to a boat broker. Neither Johnson nor Meyers was around the last time the ferry system tried to dispose of a vessel, but Johnsen has heard unpleasant stories.

''I heard it took years to sell,'' he said, ''and they gave it away for a song.''



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