Ferry Columbia out of service after 'minor' generator fire

Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A generator fire on Sunday aboard the ferry Columbia forced it to divert from a trip to Juneau and return to Ketchikan for repairs, ferry system officials said Tuesday.

The Columbia, the flagship of the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet, was replaced by the Kennicott, which operates every other week and was off-duty at the time. Additional passengers from the Columbia were transferred to the Taku.

The Columbia was about 50 miles north of Ketchikan in Clarence Strait, not far from Wrangell, when the 1:30 p.m. fire occurred, said Roger Wetherell, spokesman for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. He characterized the fire as "minor" and said it was quickly extinguished by the crew.

There were no injuries and no other systems were damaged, he said.

The Columbia had been scheduled to arrive in Juneau on Monday morning. It was carrying about 285 passengers and 113 vehicles at the time.

The electrical fire was in an auxiliary generator that powers the bow thrusters, which help the vessel maneuver to dock, he said.

The Columbia never lost propulsion or electrical power, Wetherell said. Passengers were notified of the fire and the need to return to Ketchikan.

The Columbia has had a series of generator problems in the past, but the problem generator Sunday had been thought to be working well. A recent winter refurbishment did not include the generators, Wetherell said.

The ferry system general manager, Capt. John Falvey, said a backup generator is available in Bellingham, Wash., and the Columbia will sail there to have it replaced.

"Right now, our goal is to have the experts forensically disassemble the generator, try to pinpoint what happened and to receive the Coast Guard's approval for Columbia to set sail Wednesday," Falvey said in a press release.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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