Repair job delays return of Columbia

Updating technology on state ferry after fire more difficult than anticipated

Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2001

The Columbia will stay tied up at Ketchikan's shipyard for an extra month as repairs to the state mainline ferry continue. The change affects a busy summer travel schedule for crew and passengers, according to the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The ship's electrical system caught fire last June. In November, Alaska Ship and Drydock in Ketchikan began work on a $10 million project to replace that system and improve passenger cabins.

Ferry system General Manager George Capacci said the reasons for the delay are complex.

"The magnitude of work is greater than originally anticipated. The shipyard has met challenges along the way in updating the technology," he said.

Capacci said repairs to the ship's switchboard are between 55 and 60 percent done. Work on the staterooms are between 60 to 70 percent complete, he said.

"Most shipyards are extremely hectic in the last month," Capacci said. "I've got to be optimistic that they'll press through."

About 150 of 200 workers at Ketchikan's shipyard are on the Columbia project, director of shipyard development Doug Ward said. It is not unusual to extend a project of this size, he said.

"Everyone is trying to work cooperatively to see this to an end. Putting modern equipment in a 30-year-old ship has been an engineering challenge," he said. "Extending the project will be to everyone's benefit in the long run."

The Columbia is the largest single repair project in the shipyard's recent history, he said.

AMHS' contract with the shipyard calls for a completion date of May 26, according to Capacci. Officials will address contract issues, including possible penalties, at a later date, he said.

The Columbia is not expected to be back in operation before July 4, and Capacci said crew members will need time to get up to speed on the ship's new systems. It is too early to tell whether project costs will increase because of the extension, he said.

To respond to the delays, the AMHS is shifting the Malaspina to the system's Bellingham route for the month of June. After offloading southbound traffic in Ketchikan on July 4, the Malaspina will go to Juneau and resume daily Lynn Canal service at 7 a.m. July 5.

The ferry system is canceling Pelican trips scheduled June 3, 10 and 24, but will provide service to the community on June 17. The changes will allow the LeConte to provide Sunday service to Lynn Canal. The AMHS plans six-days-a-week service between Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

Additional information about the changes is available on the ferry system's Website at Passengers also can call (800) 642-0066 or 465-3941 or visit an AMHS terminal or office.

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