New Alaska high-speed ferry strikes mooring dolphin when departing Skagway

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Fairweather rubbed against the mooring lines of a nearby cruise ship and struck a mooring dolphin while departing Skagway, Alaska, on Sept. 21.

Fairweather was delivered to the Alaska Marine Highway System in March 2004. Since going into service, the ferry has been operating on just three engines. The fourth has been inoperative because of problems with the exhaust manifold.
   Image Credit: Courtesy Derecktor Shipyards

As a result of the impact with the dolphin, Fairweather suffered a crack in the seam of its aluminum plating at the port bow gunwale about 15 feet above the waterline. The 238-foot high-speed ferry did not actually hit the cruise ship, Holland-America’s Zaandam, but the mooring lines were “chafed significantly,” according to Lt. j.g. Daniel G. Bushbaum, of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Juneau.

The damage did not affect operations, and there were no injuries on either vessel.

The $40 million Fairweather was delivered to the AMHS in March 2004. On the delivery trip from the shipyard in Connecticut to Alaska, Fairweather lost one of its four MTU engines because of improperly installed exhaust manifold parts. Since then the ferry has been operating on three engines until a replacement can be installed during scheduled maintenance in October.

With only three of its four engines working, Fairweather has been prohibited from operating in currents over 3.5 knots and winds over 25 knots. According to Nona Wilson, spokeswoman for AMHS, it is unclear whether the reduced power was a factor in the recent accident. Strong winds and the vessel’s high freeboard may have been contributing factors, she said. Normally Fairweather only uses two engines when mooring or leaving the dock.

Inspectors from AMHS and the Coast Guard inspected the vessel following the incident. Temporary repairs were made to the damaged hull plating in Juneau, and the ferry returned to limited service on Sept. 23.

The incident is still under investigation by AMHS and MSO Juneau.

At the time of the incident the weather conditions were clear, but winds were estimated to be about 25 knots, gusting to 30 knots.

“At the time of the allision, no engines were reportedly engaged,” Bushbaum said.

By Professional Mariner Staff