Ferry Columbia evacuated after docking in Bellingham

The state ferry Columbia, seen here in 2016, was evacuated Friday morning after crew found smoke onboard. The ship was docked in Bellingham, Washington. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The Alaska state ferry Columbia was evacuated Friday morning after crew noticed smoke onboard after the ship had docked in Bellingham, Washington.

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Black smoke was discovered but no flames in the bow thruster room.

“The vessel was docked at the Bellingham dock and the bow thruster is part of the mechanism (that) moves the ship left and right. So it’s used to dock,” ferry system spokeswoman Aurah Landau said. “The ship had already docked. Half of the passengers were off the boat. One of the crew members went back to the bow thruster room, opened the door, discovered the smoke and then sounded the alarm to do the evacuating and activate the fire-fighting system.”

The Bellingham fire department also responded to assist.

Passengers and crew were evacuated and no injuries were reported. The passengers were all disembarking in Bellingham. The bow thruster room was being ventilated Friday morning. Landau said the source of the smoke is not yet known.

“Well at this point we don’t know how the schedule will be impacted,” Landau said. “We don’t know what happened. We still need to investigate. When the Marine Highway System knows what the source of that smoke is then we’ll be able to understand what the impacts to the vessel and sailing will be.”

The 45-year-old ship was scheduled to sail north from Bellingham with about 300 people and a full car deck at 6 p.m. tonight. Passengers will be notified of any schedule changes. Updates will be posted online.

The Columbia is 418 feet long and can carry up to 499 passengers and 133 vehicles. The ship makes weekly runs between Bellingham and Skagway, stopping in Southeast Alaska communities along the way.