Federal authorities are investigating a “hard landing” involving a Washington State Ferries (WSF) vessel that caused extensive damage to the ferry and a Seattle terminal.
The captain of the vessel, the 328-foot Cathlamet, resigned from the ferry service within days of the incident. He has not been publicly identified.
The incident happened on July 28 at about 0815 as Cathlamet sailed into the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal in West Seattle from Vashon Island. The vessel hit a dolphin structure on the north side of the approach path into the terminal.
There were at least 50 passengers and an unknown number of vehicles on the vessel at the time. Ian Sterling, a spokesman for the state-run ferry service, said he was not aware of any serious injuries due to the incident.
“The allision resulted in significant damage to the superstructure of the ferry and damaged several passenger vehicles that were on board,” Sterling said. “It also caused significant damage to the dolphin, which will also require repair.”
Cathlamet is an Issaquah-class ferry built in 1981. The 5,000-hp diesel-powered vessel can carry up to 1,200 people and 124 vehicles. It typically runs on a triangular route across Puget Sound between Southworth, Vashon Island and the Fauntleroy terminal.
Many details about the incident were not available at press time, including the vessel’s speed as it approached the terminal. The U.S. Coast Guard is leading an investigation into the incident with support from the National Transportation Safety Board and WSF. As of early August, the cause of the incident was unknown.
“Results are expected to take some time, but as of now there is no ‘smoking gun’ — say an obvious mechanical failure,” Sterling said. He added that crew toxicology tests came back negative.
Cathlamet sustained extensive damage to its superstructure on the upper port side on the end closest to the shore. Steel pushed inward from the impact with the dolphin damaged multiple vehicles on the ferry.
The terminal itself also was damaged, Sterling said, but it remained operational.
Washington State Ferries shuffled its service around for much of the day after Cathlamet was damaged and taken out of service. However, the operator had restored two-boat service on the route by the evening rush hour. Another Issaquah-class ferry, Kitsap, filled in for Cathlamet.
Ferry crews sailed the damaged ferry away from the Fauntleroy terminal at about 1500. It ultimately went to the WSF maintenance facility on Bainbridge Island for short-term repairs.
Ferry officials are not sure how much it will cost to fix the vessel or the terminal. Sterling said the total cost of the incident will be “well into the millions.”
“And in the case of the vessel, (it) will take months to repair,” he said. “We have not chosen which shipyard will do the work yet.”
Details about the vessel’s crew on the morning of the incident were not available, including the name of the captain who later resigned. Sterling said he was a 36-year ferry system employee.