The state's new fast ferry Fairweather slammed into three stern lines of a cruise ship docked in Skagway on Tuesday and also may have hit a mooring dolphin, leaving cracks in the side of the ferry.
The accident did not result in any injuries on either ship. The Alaska Marine Highway System said the ferry has returned to Juneau for an investigation, but the damage it sustained will put it out of service until further notice.
"We will investigate to determine how it happened, and take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Tom Briggs, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Transportation, in a brief press release issued Tuesday.
The accident happened just after noon as the vessel left Skagway, said Jim Robertson, executive officer of the Marine Safety Office for the U.S. Coast Guard in Juneau.
The ship made contact with three of five stern lines of a moored cruise ship, severing the lines, according to a press release issued by ferry officials Tuesday evening. Transportation spokesman John Manly said he is uncertain which cruise ship was involved in the accident.
Department officials also said the Fairweather might have rammed into one of the mooring dolphins of the Skagway dock. A mooring dolphin is a group of pilings or a metal structure driven into the sea floor for tying up ships.
The accident created cracks in a bulkhead at the bow and in a seam of the aluminum plating about 15 to 20 feet above the water line, the press release said. No damage occurred below the water line.
Manly said it is uncertain how big the crack is, adding that there is no estimate yet to the damage.
"We don't know exactly what happened," he said. "We'll have to have some interviews with people onboard and on the bridge."
He said the ship is scheduled for overhaul in October, when the state has tentative plans to replace a malfunctioning engine that broke down earlier this month.
The transportation department announced Sept. 2 that one of four engines failed due to faulty construction of the ship. The vessel has operated on three engines since, which has caused problems in running it through Sergius Narrows near Sitka. The failed engine has resulted in some canceled trips to Sitka.
The Fairweather, the first and only fast ferry in the state fleet, began serving the Panhandle communities of Haines, Sitka and Skagway from Juneau this summer.
Manly said there are seven mainline ferries sailing in Lynn Canal to Haines and Skagway by the end of the month and that travelers will have to reschedule travel on the mainline ferries Kennicott, Malaspina or Aurora.
The ferry system said it will announce any sailing adjustments caused by the accident.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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