Coast Guard acts on ferry leaks

After a series of leaks that sprung in several antiquated ferry vessels in recent months, the Coast Guard is requiring Washington State Ferries to make additional inspections of the vessels that operate from Keystone Harbor on Whidbey Island.

Marta Coursey, communications director for Washington State Ferries, said there were four instances in recent months where leaks were discovered on various Steel Electric class vessels. The first incident took place in March when workers discovered a small crack on the 80-year-old Klickitat. That crack prompted the cancellation of the Keystone/Port Townsend route over the course of several days while emergency repairs took place. That wreaked havoc with commuters by extending commutes by several hours while leaving others stranded until runs resumed.

Then in May and June, small pinhole leaks were discovered on the Quinault and the Illahee that needed repairs.

In each case, the leak was reported to the Coast Guard, Coursey said.

Because of the leaks in the old vessels, the Coast Guard required State Ferries to complete an internal examination of the four Steel Electric vessels and remove concrete that isn’t identified as fixed ballast, according to a letter sent to Washington State Ferries by the Coast Guard’s marine inspection division.

Three of the four vessels have undergone the additional inspection. The last vessel, the Illahee, was removed from service for the inspection. The Illahee typically travels routes through the San Juan Islands. During the inspection, the small, 34-vessel Hiyu will run the route.

The Port Town/Keystone route will continue to operate two vessels throughout the summer months.

In addition to the recent inspections, officials have to develop a long-term repair and maintenance plan of the Steel Electrics’ hulls and identify any suspect plating. That plan has to be complete by Aug. 15.

The emergency work looks like it will cost Washington State Ferries approximately $2 million to come up with the new inspection program.

Coursey said officials understand this is a difficult for people, but the most important issue is safety.

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