ferrystall980
The ferry Tacoma sits idle after breaking down Tuesday off Bainbridge Island. (Curt Gammell photo)

Ferry system scrambling to deal with unprecedented 'coincidence of events'

UPDATE:

Normal ferry service is expected to return by Saturday.

"We have a very fragile system. When one boat is out of the system, it's very challenging. When four vessels are out of service, it's extremely challenging," said Captain George Capacci, interim director of Washington State Ferries.

He said the Chelan is joining the Edmonds-Kingston run on Thursday.

Original story:

With passengers facing waits of up to 2 1/2 hours on the Edmonds-Kingston run, the interim head of Washington State Ferries says he'll move a ship from the San Juan Islands Thursday afternoon to help deal with service outages caused by what he calls an unprecedented "coincidence of events."

WSF director Capt. George Capacci ordered one of the two boats on the run moved to the Bainbridge-Seattle route Wednesday after the ferry Tacoma broke down Tuesday afternoon on the state's busiest run.

The timing couldn't have been worse, with the jumbo ferry Wenatchee already out of service. The ship is undergoing a week of emergency repairs in Vancouver, British Columbia, sidelining two of the state's three biggest boats.

"We can't think of another time where in the 17 years this class of vessel has been in operation we've had casualties to two of the three vessels of this class at the same time," Capacci says.

Capacci apologized Wednesday, saying he understands the anger and frustration of passengers impacted by Tuesday's break down, and those delayed by the service reduction on the Edmonds-Kingston run.

"Customers are understandably upset. I apologize to them and sympathize with them as they're trying to get back and forth but it points out how regular and predictable Washington State Ferries is...the fact that we have 450 sailings a day as constant and reliable and predictable points out what an anomaly these current events are."

Capacci says the ferry Chelan will move from the San Juan Islands to Edmonds-Kingston some time Thursday afternoon. But that will cause a ripple effect of its own, forcing suspension of international service between Anacortes and Sidney, B.C. through at least Friday.

Adding to the system's headaches, the new ferry Tokitae was taken out of service briefly Wednesday afternoon on the Mukilteo-Clinton run after crews became concerned about a potential mechanical issue. It was determined to be fine and returned to service an hour later.

Along with the Wenatchee and the Tacoma, the 144-car Yakima and 124-car Kitsap are also out of service for long-term maintenance, leaving the system with no extra boats.

The Wenatchee is expected to return to service Friday, allowing the Edmonds-Kingston run to get back up to full speed. Crews have no estimate on when the Tacoma can get back in action. Capacci says staff are doing all they can to get everything back to normal as quickly as possible.

"Ships may appear to be simple, but they are very complex systems that have many, many different moving parts," he says. "But, it is out of the ordinary what we are seeing now."

Check the latest ferry bulletins here.


Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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