Fast Ferry Engine Damage Could Affect Service

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One of the Alaska Marine Highway’s new ferry engines is down. That could affect service in Southeast and Prince William Sound.

Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says a gear tooth broke Saturday on one of four engines powering the fast ferry Fairweather. Sunday’s sailing was cancelled.

The ship, which is temporarily based in Cordova, sails to Whittier and Valdez, though not always on the same day.

Woodrow says officials hope to resume operations by Thursday, the next scheduled departure.

“We are requesting approval from the Coast Guard to operate the Fairweather on three engines, which we’ve done in the past,” he says. “If this is approved, the Fairweather will continue to service Prince William Sound until it’s scheduled to leave. At that time, either the Aurora or the Chenega or both ferries will move into Prince William Sound and continue ferry service for those communities.”

He says the engine is under warranty and the state will not have to pay for repairs.

A plaque onboard the Fairweather commemorates its construction. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
The Fairweather started having engine trouble within a few years of its 2004 launch. The state sued and was eventually given four new engines for each of its two fast ferries, plus two spares, also called “swing” engines.

The Fairweather’s power plant was replacedabout a year ago at a Washington state shipyard. It’s been filling in this winter for the fast ferry Chenega, which is getting its own.

“Fixing this engine will be as simple as picking up one of our swing engines in Ketchikan on our way to Seattle and then replacing the engine and leaving the old engine or the damaged engine to be repaired,” Woodrow says.

The Fairweather will return to its Juneau base in May and resume sailing to Sitka and Angoon.

But the travel and engine-replacement time could delay the start of service, unless another vessel can fill in and give it an early start south.

Meanwhile, the ferry Aurora had to end a Juneau-to-Gustavus sailing Monday because of bad weather. No replacement sailing is planned.

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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.