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Coast Guard Paperwork Docks Pensacola Ferries

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Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
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Six months after being damaged by Hurricane Sally and just days before they were to be placed back into service, Pensacola’s ferries will remain docked for now.

Scheduled to resume this weekend, the service has been put on hold once again. Joe Asebedo, the general manager of Pensacola Bay Cruises, says they’re awaiting the last piece of the puzzle – Coast Guard approval.

“We’ve gone through all the safety inspections; through all the safety system inspections, seaworthiness inspections that the Coast Guard has done,” Asebedo said. “Those have all passed; the crew has been tested, those have passed. We’re ready to go but it’s really been just a small amount of paperwork that’s taken a little bit longer than anticipated.”

The ferries – Pelican Perch and Turtle Runner – were heavily damaged by Hurricane Sally last September. They underwent restoration in Alabama, with Turtle Runner already back at its home at the Port of Pensacola. The main damage on both, said Asebedo, was structural.

“They’ve been rebuilt, re-welded, everything is as good as new; the boats look pristine, they look awesome,” said Asebedo. “As you’re looking at them now you can’t even tell that anything happened during Hurricane Sally.”

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Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
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Joe Asebedo, General Manager, Pensacola Bay Cruises.

Similar prep on Pelican Perch is expected to be conducted next week. Obviously, the original Saturday reopening is by the boards, but Asebedo is optimistic the next start date is sooner rather than later.

“I’ve been saying for six weeks that we’re going to open in two weeks,” said Asebedo. “So I’m cautious enough that I can be saying that we might get this thing resolved today, but we’ll see. I’m looking at Monday or Tuesday of next week before we really get some traction.”

After its original opening in 2018, Pensacola Bay Cruises took over the following year, and since then has had to contend with at least two issues that Asebedo says has hurt the operation.

“The two years that we’ve operated; obviously the first year we had the first-year jitters,” Asebedo said. “The second year we had COVID and the hurricane and it’s really hard at this point to put an actual forecast or monetary value on how much it cost us.”

With the reopening pushed back, Pensacola Bay Cruises chief Joe Asebedo makes one request of their potential future customers.

“I just hope the residents of Pensacola continue to be patient with us. There’s nobody more disappointed in us not being able to start our service today, than us here at Pensacola Bay Cruises,” said Asebedo. “But once we come back, we hope people will come back and utilize the service to get over to the beach and back.”

More information is available at pensacolabaycruise.com. Updates will also be posted on the company’s Facebook page.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.