Propeller problems postpone ferry Columbia’s return

The largest vessel in the Alaska Marine Highway fleet will be late to return to service this summer.

Listen now

The state ferry Columbia (KFSK Ffle photo)

The 418-foot ferry Columbia was due to return to service June 28th with service from Bellingham, Washington to communities in Southeast Alaska. The vessel has been in a Portland, Oregon shipyard undergoing repairs to a propeller which struck an unknown object and was damaged last September.

“So there were some extensive repairs that needed to be done to the propeller system,” Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said. “That requires a lot of lead time. The parts are manufactured in Germany and then there’s obviously the installation of the parts afterwards. So it took a while to make those repairs. And then we went and thought the repairs were successful and were testing the vessel and during that test there was another mechanical failure related to that newly installed propeller system. So we’re going to have to take the ship back and it’s, the vessel will be pulled back out of the water and there’ll be inspections made to the propeller system again.”

The Columbia was built in 1974. It can accommodate just under 500 passengers and 133 vehicles. The new target date for it to return to service is July 26th. The 408-foot ferry Malaspina has been filling in on the Columbia’s route and will continue to do so. But Bailey said there will be some impacts to people who have booked passage on the Columbia in June and July.

“The impacts though are that the Malaspina is smaller and therefore there’s going to be some passengers who had made reservations in a cabin and they will not be able to get those reserved cabins and there’s also, because the deck is smaller, we won’t be able to carry as many vehicles so there are some vehicle reservations that we’re going to have to have to cancel,” she explained. “So absolutely there are some impacts to passengers.”

The marine highway is contacting the passengers impacted by the change. A toll free number for more information is 1-800-642-0066 or online.

The Columbia was stuck in Petersburg with mechanical problems last July stranding nearly 200 passengers. It was also pulled for propeller damage in August of 2015 after striking a log in the water.

Earlier this month the ferry system announced another vessel, the Tustamena, would also be late returning from repair work.