KETCHIKAN - The state ferry LeConte has returned to service after months of costly work to repair damage when the vessel was grounded on Cozian Reef in Peril Strait.
The LeConte left Ketchikan at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and headed to Petersburg, where the 235-foot ferry was scheduled to relieve the state ferry Aurora, said Capt. John Falvey, general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Once fully returned to service, the LeConte will handle the ferry system's northern Panhandle route, Falvey said. The route includes Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Kake, Angoon, Tenakee and, occasionally, Pelican.
Doug Ward of Alaska Ship and Drydock said the repairs were expected to cost about $3 million but were closer to $4 million. The cost includes annual maintenance on the vessel.
The LeConte ran aground on Cozian Reef in Peril Strait on May 10. After salvagers refloated the vessel a week later, it was towed to the Ketchikan Shipyard for repairs.
The LeConte was going from Angoon to Sitka when it ran aground. Eighty-six passengers and 23 crew had to be 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. Divers found two gashes between 30 feet and 40 feet long on both sides of the ship's keel.
The ferry joined the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet in 1974 and cost between $30 million and $35 million.