Ferry skipper suspended for grounding

Investigation concludes captain was negligent, but minimized damage

Posted: Tuesday, July 01, 2003

The Alaska Marine Highway System captain in charge of the state ferry Kennicott when it hit a rock in Wrangell Narrows last month will have his license suspended for a month, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday.

The Coast Guard determined lack of sufficient rest may have contributed to the problem, but noted Capt. Gary Anderson, 53, had an unblemished record in his 11 years with the ferry system until the June 3 incident.

Capt. George Capacci, general manager of the ferry system, said Anderson's workload was not unusual for a ferry captain. The ferry system requires that captains get at least 10 hours off per 24-hour period, and at least 70 hours off per week, but there are no requirements for sleep.

"The captains are up when the ships go through restricted waterways and usually at all moorings and unmoorings and things like that. An eight-hour sleep is an uncommon occurrence," he said.

The Coast Guard determination is binding. Anderson, of Olympia, Wash., has been on administrative leave since June 3, and it's unclear whether that time will count toward his one-month suspension.

"I have every confidence in the world in Capt. Anderson and his abilities," Capacci said. "I think the public is served by his presence on the ships."

The Kennicott was headed to Petersburg on June 3 with 163 passengers and 56 vehicles when it hit the rock. No one was injured, though the ship's hull plating was cracked. The Coast Guard found that Anderson gave an order to the helmsman to steer to the left when he should have ordered him to steer to the right.

The Coast Guard noted that Anderson took corrective action immediately after he gave the order, but heavy fog and the narrow width of the channel made it difficult to correct the error. The Coast Guard and the ferry system said Anderson's corrective action did limit the damage to the vessel.

Despite that, the investigation concluded Anderson was negligent, according to Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Roger Wetherell.

"There is a punishable phase for negligence," Wetherell said.

Anderson also will have a period of probation after the month's suspension. It's not clear when the suspension will begin.

Capacci said the ferry system has not yet completed its investigation, but its preliminary findings were similar to the Coast Guard's.

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

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