Ferry Engine Problems Continue

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

Time could be running out for the fast ferry Fairweather.

It’s been plagued with engine problems, which are the subject of a lawsuit against the ship’s builder.

Captain John Falvey told the Marine Transportation Advisory Board on Friday that approval to use the engines runs out this April. But he says that deadline could be extended after an off-season examination.

“We’re hoping that what we see is OK and we can get another extension. We’re kind of living year by year on extensions. We’re racing the clock against potentially getting new engines or solving the problem and keeping the fast ferries running,” he says.

The Juneau-based Fairweather was out of service for about two weeks recently due to an engine-system crack that leaked oil.

Approval for the Cordova-based Chenega, the state’s other fast ferry, will run out next July. But it’s a younger ship and Falvey expects it to easily win an extension.

The ferry Columbia is also having engine trouble.

The ship is almost 40 years old. Its return to service last May was delayed due to an engine problem.

Falvey says a long-term solution is needed.

“We had a mechanical problem with one of the (engine) cylinders. We lost quite a few days. We got it fixed. Boat’s been running OK since. We are in the designing process of new engines. That uses federal money we would hope to be able to obligate that sometime in spring or early summer,” he says.

Falvey also says an upgrade is planned for the ferry Kennicott’s lift, an elevator that carries cars and trucks down to its vehicle deck.

It will allow easier loading in Yakutat, where the ship has had problems.

“We plan to install the tie-downs during the Kennicott’s state overhaul this winter. So we will have a mechanism to secure cars up on that lift basically all the time, in any kind of weather conditions,” he says.

Several other ships will undergo repairs and maintenance this winter.

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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.