Ferry pulled off route after fire

Other ships to pick up passengers while Columbia is repaired

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003

A fire on the state ferry Columbia has put the ship out of commission while repairs are made to its generators, Capt. George Capacci, general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System, said Thursday.

Capacci said the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping won't allow the vessel to resume regularly scheduled service until repairs are made. He said the state hopes to have the ferry running again by Wednesday.

A generator on the Columbia caught fire about 1:45 a.m. Wednesday while the ship sailed from Petersburg to Wrangell. About 170 passengers were on board and no one was injured. Coast Guard investigators determined the fire started in the electrical compartment of what's called the V12 845-kilowatt generator.

The Columbia has three generators and needs at least one for power and a second as backup. The fire occurred in the second generator, and an electrical problem called a ground fault was found in the third. Both generators need repairs, Capacci said.

He said ferry operators have located one generator that is being flown up from Texas.

"The Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping will allow us to sail when we have two fully functioning generators on the ship plus an emergency generator," he said.

The Columbia was scheduled to depart Ketchikan heading south to Bellingham, Wash., on Wednesday, carrying 225 passengers and 66 vehicles, but did not make the trip. Capacci said the marine highway system will take the ferry Matanuska out of the shipyard early to sail south from Ketchikan on Saturday. The Matanuska will leave Bellingham Monday and come back north. The Columbia was scheduled to depart Bellingham today.

"Those people that are scheduled to sail northbound will either wait until Monday and get on the Matanuska or can drive to Prince Rupert and get on the Aurora Sunday. The Aurora is going to make extra trips to Prince Rupert," Capacci said.

Prince Rupert, British Columbia, is the ferry system's only regular port between Bellingham and Ketchikan.

An electrical fire hit the Columbia in June 2000, damaging the switchboard and crippling the ship. The ship was out of service while all of its switchboard wiring was replaced.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.

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