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New lifeboats will make Keystone ferry safer

"Fifteen years after the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic, enterprising shipbuilders constructed the ferries Quinault and Klickitat, two of the largest automobile ferries ever built at the time.But having learned nothing from history, they still didn't put enough lifeboats aboard.Since 1927 the two Steel-Electric class ferries that now work the Keystone-Port Townsend run have made their trips without enough boats to accommodate a full passenger load. Washington State Ferries, operator of these solid old boats, changed that recently when it installed a new life raft system aboard the Klickitat - a system than can keep up to 600 people above water if the Klickitat does a Titanic.Capt. Kelly Mitchell, a safety officer with Washington State Ferries, said that the ferry's new Marine Evacuation Slide system makes certain that ferry passengers have more than just a life vest between them and the cold, Admiralty Inlet waters.The system consists of four inflatable tubs, each large enough to hold 150 people, and inflatable slides that allow ferry passengers to move from the Klickitat to the tubs quickly. That way, nobody gets into the water, Mitchell said.The evacuation slide was first installed on the Jumbo Mark II ferries that serve the Seattle area. The Klickitat is the first smaller ferry to have the system. Mitchell said the Keystone-Port Townsend run was targeted because it is one of the longest and most dangerous in the state ferry system. A combination of rough weather and having just one ferry on the run would make it difficult to pull people bereft of a life boat out of the water in time.Mitchell said the MES might be used in a number of situations, including a shipboard fire, a collision, or if the Klickitat starts to sink. The Quinault, which is expected to take over for the Klickitat this summer, will also be equipped with the slide.Mitchell noted that the ferry system has an almost-perfect safety record, which was noted in a recent report by a blue-ribbon panel charged with making safety recommendations to Washington State Ferries. The panel did not explicitly recommend adding more lifeboat capacity to the system's ferries. It pushed for more safety training for ferry personnel.State Ferries is in the process of planning a safety drill in conjunction with the Coast Guard, Whidbey Island fire protection districts and other island emergency services. The drill will involve the Keystone-Port Townsend ferry. "

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