Illahee springs leaks one day after inspection


Staff reporter

One day after undergoing a hull inspection for leaks, the ferry Illahee was pulled from service Sunday afternoon after workers discovered a crack in the vessel's stern tube. That crack caused the old vessel to take on water.

The damage prompted officials to take the vessel out of service on the Port Townsend/Keystone run.

With only one ferry running, delays for waiting vehicles reached three hours at both ends of the route Sunday, wreaking havoc with people's schedules as they returning home after the weekend. By Monday morning a replacement vessel, the Nisqually, was serving the route along with the Klickitat.

The Illahee had completed an inspection Saturday that was required by the United States Coast Guard. It returned to service Sunday and had been operating for approximately five hours before the crack was discovered.

Marta Coursey, communications director for Washington State Ferries, said the Illahee passed the inspection. She said officials believe the vessel was damaged when it was removed from dry dock. She said that process puts a lot of stress on a boat and it could have caused the crack. Similar problems have been known to happen in newer vessels.

Washington State Ferries is required to perform frequent inspections on the fleet's four antiquated Steel Electric vessels, built some 80 years ago. Those inspections were required after leaks were discovered on the vessels in recent months. In one instance, a leak discovered on the Klickitat in March forced officials to cancel the run for several days while emergency repairs were made.

As part of the inspection process, officials are also developing a new long-term plan to maintain the aging vessels. It will cost the system an estimated $2 million to complete the inspection work.

While two vessels are currently operating on the Keystone run, that could change today. The Nisqually was scheduled to undergo its inspection Wednesday. However, the ferry system received a 14-day extension from the Coast Guard. That will allow two vessels to run from Keystone Harbor while the Illahee is repaired.

Coursey said she didn't know how long the Illahee will remain out of service or how much it will cost for repairs. She said that won't be known until workers pull the Illahee out of the water and survey the damage. Early estimates indicate that it could take two weeks to repair the ferry.

The Steel Electric vessels are the only ones capable to navigate through the shallow Keystone Harbor. The ferry system is researching new vessels to replace the current ones, however, Coursey said the possible choices won't be known until January, 2008.

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