Fire leaves ferry Columbia dead in water

Posted: Tuesday, June 06, 2000

A fire in the engine room of the Alaska ferry Columbia left the boat dead in the water today in Chatham Strait southwest of Juneau, about 3 miles from Tenakee Springs.

Coast Guard spokesman Ray Massey said the fire broke out shortly after noon and crew members extinguished it. However, the fire flared up again 45 minutes later and again had to be put out.

The fire destroyed the ship's electrical distribution system.

``Their electrical system is basically fried,'' Massey said.

The Columbia is carrying 434 passengers and 63 crew members, said Kurt Parkan of the state Department of Transportation. There were no injuries.

The Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa, based in Petersburg, was on its regular law enforcement patrol and arrived at the scene to assist the stricken vessel. Also on the scene was the ferry Taku.

Massey said that a Coast Guard chopper from Sitka was ferrying additional firefighters to the scene in case the fire flared up again.

Massey said the Columbia and Taku will lash up bow to bow and stern to stern and passengers will be transferred via the car decks to the Taku. Massey said passengers will be allowed to take pets and pocketbooks.

``I don't believe they're going to allow them to take any baggage,'' Massey said.

Massey described the weather in Chatham Strait as low clouds and calm winds.

Massey says tug boats from Alaska Marine Lines are on their way to the scene.

Parkan said the Taku will head to Juneau to offload passengers. The Columbia will be towed to Juneau so that passengers can retrieve their vehicles.

The Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office and the state fire marshal will investigate the cause of the fire, Massey said.

The Columbia's schedule called for it to leave Juneau at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday bound for Sitka. The Taku was scheduled to leave Sitka at 4 a.m. Tuesday on its way to Hoonah.

The Columbia is under the command of Captain George Brereton, Parkan said.

The Columbia is the largest vessel of the Marine Highway fleet. Launched by Lockheed Shipbuilding in Seattle in 1974, the Columbia is 418 feet long, with capacity for 625 passengers and 134 vehicles. It is also the Alaska Marine Highway's fastest vessel, operating at a service speed of 17.3 knots.

The ship has 91 total cabins, a dining room, cafeteria, gift shop, cocktail lounge, solarium, and observation lounge.

The Taku was built in 1963 and renovated in 1981. The vessel is 352 feet long, with listed capacity of 69 vehicles and 450 passengers.

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