Fast Ferry Fairweather Out Until September

Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau: Fast ferry Fairweather.

The fast ferry Fairweather will be out of service until early September.

The ship has been tied up in Juneau since a small oil leak was discovered Thursday evening in one of its four water jets, which power the ship.

Officials hoped to weld a temporary patch and return to service by Thursday. Further repairs would have taken place during a scheduled October overhaul.

But Captain Mike Neussl, who runs the ferry system, says that won’t work.

“Now the plan is to do the ultimate plan, which is to take the vessel to Ketchikan, drydock it, remove the water jet and repair it outside the vessel with a factory-approved permanent repair. That does involve welding and grinding back to original specifications, not just welding a plate over the pinhole that is in there,” he says.

Neussl says the Juneau-based Fairweather will be out until September 3rd. Ferry staff are looking at alternatives for Sitka, which gets five sailings a week. One option would add staff to the ferry LeConte, so it could run a longer schedule.

They’re also considering options for its two weekly Petersburg sailings, which have attracted less traffic.

The Fairweather will sail to Ketchikan’s Alaska Ship and Drydock under its own power. Neussl says it can operate on three engines.

“Obviously, we can’t be leaking oil all the way down there. If there’s oil in the system and it’s pressurized it’s going to leak. So basically we’ve got to vacate all the oil out of the system and not operate that No. 4 engine on the way down to Ketchikan to get it to the drydock,” he says.

He says about five quarts of oil leaked last week before the hole was discovered. It was cleaned up.

Neussl says the leak is not connected to ongoing engine problems that threaten to sideline the Fairweather and its sister ship, the Chenega.

Those problems are the subject of a lawsuit against the engine manufacturer and ship builder.

The fast ferries each carry up to 250 passengers and 36 vehicles.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.