Coast Guard investigates Fairweather accident

Fast ferry to be back in action today, two days after accident in Skagway

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2004

The state's fast ferry Fairweather will be back in circulation today after undergoing minor repairs following an accident on Tuesday that caused it to plow into the stern lines of a cruise ship and mooring dolphin in Skagway.

The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched investigators on Wednesday to find out what caused the accident.

Winds, at 25 to 35 knots in Skagway on Tuesday, may have been a factor, said Lt. j.g. Daniel Buchsbaum, a public affairs officer for the Coast Guard. The ferry also was traveling on three of four engines, due to a manufacturing problem that put the fourth engine out of commission at the beginning of September.

"The findings are very preliminary so far," Buchsbaum said, adding that the investigation should be complete within two to four weeks.

Jim Robertson, executive officer of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Juneau, said officers in Skagway and Juneau are interviewing eyewitnesses and the ships' crew members.

"We're also looking for a video or photograph of the event," he said.

The ferry was traveling at about 2 knots at 11:56 a.m. Tuesday as it departed Skagway for Juneau. It made contact with three of five of the mooring lines attached to the Holland America cruise ship Zaandam, according to Buchsbaum.

The ferry also made contact with the mooring dolphin to which the cruise ship was tied, Buchsbaum said. The accident caused some damage to the mooring dolphin and to the Fairweather, but the two ships never made contact, according to the Coast Guard.

The Zaandam carried 1,324 passengers and 575 crew members and the Fairweather held 62 passengers and 10 crew members, according to the Coast Guard. No one was injured in the incident.

The state had begun repairing minor damage to a bulkhead at the bow of the ferry and in a seam of aluminum plating about 15 to 20 feet above the water line on Wednesday, said John Manly, a transportation department spokesman.

"They've done most of the repair work from the inside," Manly said. "There's still some damage outside."

During a Wednesday presentation in Sitka, ferry system General Manager John Falvey said the Fairweather has carried about 31,000 passengers and 5,900 vehicles between Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Sitka this summer.

He said a replacement for the fourth malfunctioning engine is under construction in Germany.

"We did really well until three weeks ago," Falvey said.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at Empire reporter Elizabeth Bluemink contributed to this story.

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