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Ship Island charter company to sell one of its boats

Gulfport-based Ship Island Excursions will sell one of three ferries because of a decline in business since Hurricane Katrina.

“We are doing a third of the business we did last season,” said Louis Skrmetta, operations manager of the family business. “We have too many boats with too much capacity.”

The company has put its 100-foot, 300-passenger capacity Captain Pete up for sale with ship broker Pinnacle Marine Corp. for $1 million.

The company will keep the 374-passenger capacity Gulf Islander and the 200-passenger capacity Pan American Clipper.

Skrmetta said he ferried 300 passengers to Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Ship Island on Saturday. The same day last year, his boats handled 1,000 passengers.

He said it will take three or four years before business picks back up to pre-Katrina levels.

“Most of our passengers are relief folks right now,” he said. “And let’s face it, we won’t see them next year. We’ve lost the Midwest tourist families, which were huge for us.”

He said business will remain flat until hotel rooms start opening again along the Coast.

Steve Richer, executive director of the Harrison County Tourism Commission, has said the county has seen available hotel rooms decrease from 17,000 to 6,500.

“We can’t afford to keep these boats if they are not working for two or three years until business comes back,” Skrmetta said. “We’re just reading the writing on the wall.”