Skipper's error caused ferry to run aground

Kennicott captain on administrative leave

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2003

A captain's error caused the state ferry Kennicott's accident earlier this week, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said Thursday.

"He intended to give an order (to the helmsman) to steer to the right. Instead what he did was give an improper order to steer to the left," said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Paitl with the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office.

The captain, Gary Anderson of Olympia, Wash., has been placed on administrative leave pending completion of the Alaska Marine Highway System's own investigation, said ferry system Capt. Jack Meyers. Meyers would not comment on the ferry system's investigation.

The Kennicott was headed to Petersburg on Tuesday with 163 passengers and 56 vehicles when it hit a rock in Wrangell Narrows at about 4:30 a.m. No one was injured, though the ship's hull plating was cracked. The ferry continued to Petersburg and then to Auke Bay, where its northbound passengers transferred to another ferry.

The ship arrived in Ketchikan on Wednesday night and is being repaired at Alaska Ship and Dry Dock, Meyers said.

"They removed about 30 square feet of heavy hull plating and 20 linear feet of reinforcing internal steel structure," he said. "They'll ... replace it with brand new steel."

The repairs will cost about $50,000, Meyers said.

Meyers said the ferry system expects the Kennicott to be running Saturday. The smaller ferry Aurora will accommodate the Kennicott's passengers in the meantime. The Kennicott usually runs between Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Skagway.

Paitl of the Coast Guard said Anderson has an unblemished record.

"He has been operating in Alaska 22 years. The captain did make immediate corrections and did mitigate damage to the vessel due to his actions," he said. "In Southeast Alaska, these waters can be unforgiving. This ought to send a warning to all mariners out there that they just have to be on their guard at all times."

The accident was the second problem for the ferry system in as many weeks.

A generator on the ferry Columbia caught fire about 1:45 a.m. May 30 while the ship sailed from Petersburg to Wrangell. About 170 passengers were on board and no one was injured. The generator was replaced, and the Columbia departed Ketchikan on Wednesday. It was scheduled to arrive in Bellingham this morning on schedule, Meyers said. He didn't know how much the repairs to the Columbia cost.

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



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