Washington state ferry hits a marked rock

Officials from Washington State Ferries are investigating the grounding of the 2,477-gt, double-ended ferry Sealth, which struck Reid Rock off San Juan Island on Dec. 24, 2004.

Sealth was leaving Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, heading to Anacortes, Wash., when it struck the rock at about 2015, about 1 mile northeast of Brown Island, in the San Juan Channel. Steering and propulsion were not affected by the grounding. Sealth returned to Friday Harbor, and passengers and vehicles were unloaded by 2033. No one was hurt.

Reid Rock, which is not visible at the surface, is marked by a lighted buoy. The weather was clear with unlimited visibility, according to Senior Port Capt. Kelley Mitchell, who is leading the investigation. Normally, ferries pass the rock at a distance of 0.2 to 0.3 miles, according to Mitchell. On Dec. 26, the vessel was towed to the Dakota Creek Industries yard in Anacortes for damage assessment and repairs. It was back in service Feb. 4.

The grounding resulted in a 96-foot-long, 4-foot-wide scrape. Preliminary estimates put the damage at $700,000, but Mitchell said ferry inspectors believe the cost to repair the vessel will be less than that. The hull was not breached, and no fuel oil leaked from the vessel. Parts of the hull were dented about 2 inches, causing the internal steel members to buckle and roll, according to Gerry Elston, a naval architect at Washington State Ferries. The denting caused a hole in a bulkhead, resulting in fuel spilling into an engine room bilge.

The investigation is focusing on four crewmembers: the captain, a 29-year employee of Washington State Ferries; the chief mate, a licensed captain and 20-year employee; the quartermaster, a five-year employee; and an ordinary seaman with five years at the ferry system, who was the vessel’s lookout. Drug and alcohol tests of the crew were negative.

At the time of the grounding, the chief mate was the deck officer in the active wheelhouse. Until the investigation is concluded, Mitchell could not say where the captain was when the incident occurred. Washington State Ferries has a policy that a licensed pilot and quartermaster must be in the controlling wheelhouse at all times. The vessel’s master is required to be in the controlling wheelhouse at all landings.

“We don’t require two licensed pilots at all landings, because the way our system works, in one direction the mate has got the con and the master has the con the other way,” Mitchell said.

During inclement weather, a lookout is stationed on deck, as far forward as possible. But at night or in clear weather, the lookout is in the controlling wheelhouse, according to Mitchell.

Investigators are also looking at radar and GPS vessel tracking information from the vessel, and vessel logs and reports from third-party technical personnel to confirm whether electronic equipment was operating normally.

By Professional Mariner Staff