Damaged ferry undergoing sea trials

No date set for when LeConte will return to action; Aurora will continue to handle ferry's normal schedule

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

KETCHIKAN - The state ferry that was extensively damaged in May is undergoing sea trials and inspections this week following months of repair work.

The Alaska Marine Highway System has not set a date for the LeConte to return to service, said John Manly, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation.

"We want to get it back on line as soon as we possibly can," he said.

The AMHS ferry Aurora will continue to handle the LeConte's normal schedule until the repaired ship returns to service, Manly said.

The 235-foot LeConte was going from Angoon to Sitka in Southeast Alaska on May 10 when it ran aground. Eighty-six passengers and 23 crew were evacuated.

A Coast Guard investigation revealed that the crew made a decision to change course and veer close to Baranof Island before striking the reef. The crew decided to navigate between Otstoia Island and Baranof Island and failed to see a navigation aide marking the proper route past the reef.

Workers patched and plugged the leaks in the LeConte's hull so it could be towed to Ketchikan, where it underwent repairs at the state-owned shipyard.

It took three days going about 4 knots an hour to tow the ferry the 263 miles to Ketchikan from Cozian Reef, where it had been hard aground in the Peril Strait about 30 miles north of Sitka.

Divers found two gashes between 30 feet and 40 feet long on both sides of the ship's keel.

The ferry, which joined the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet in 1974 and cost between $30 million and $35 million, will have to go through sea trials as if it is a new ship before being returned to service.

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