The state ferry Taku is out of service until further notice after its shaft clutch assembly failed when the ship tried to leave the Auke Bay terminal at 7 a.m. Thursday. No one was hurt and Alaska Marine Highway System engineers are investigating what went wrong, system Capt. Jack Meyers said.
The Taku was scheduled to leave Juneau early Thursday for Haines and Skagway, then depart Skagway at 4:15 p.m., stop in Haines and return to Juneau at 11 p.m. The Taku provides northbound and southbound service between Juneau, Haines and Skagway Thursday through Sunday during the summer season.
Taku passengers continuing north to Haines and Skagway were allowed to stay on board the ship Thursday night, Meyers said. The ferry system provided meals.
Alaska Marine Highway officials ordered a new shaft clutch assembly Thursday from Lufkin, a Midwestern company that makes the part. The company also is sending a technical representative. Meyers hopes the parts and the representative will arrive today.
"We're hoping it takes less than 24 hours to fix once the parts arrive and the technical representative arrives to assist in the repair," Meyers said.
The car deck of the Taku was "basically full" Thursday, said Barbara Fairbanks, traffic manager of the marine highway system. Neither she nor Meyers knew the exact number of passengers and vehicles aboard the ferry.
Taku passengers who were coming from Prince Rupert, B.C., Ketchikan and Wrangell have been booked on the Matanuska and will head north at 9:45 a.m. today, Fairbanks said. Taku passengers who were boarding in Juneau will head north on the Malaspina at 9 p.m. today.
"For the most part, there's plenty of room for passengers on the Matanuska in the morning," Fairbanks said. "Those with vehicles, we will probably put on the Malaspina."
A catamaran from Allen Marine Tours Inc. transported approximately 40 stranded Taku passengers to Skagway Thursday, Allen division manager Jim Collins said. Allen received an emergency phone call from the ferry system at 4:36 p.m. Thursday, and its catamaran left at 5:12 p.m.
"We fairly frequently get short notice calls to help out with ferry traffic or maybe when there's fog with airplanes," Collins said.
The mechanical failure is the third mishap for the ferry system since May 28. The ferry Kennicott hit a rock June 3 outside of Wrangell. A generator on the ferry Columbia caught fire May 28 as the ship sailed from Petersburg to Wrangell.
"It's certainly discouraging, especially during our busy season, to have this happen," Meyers said of the string of accidents. "And we try to accommodate the passengers. We're doing the best we can."