December 21, 2004

Rogue wave damages Alaska fast ferry

The Alaska Marine Highway System's fast vehicle ferry, M/V Fairweather, is out of service for repairs to damage sustained Thursday afternoon.

AMHS says the vessel was hit by a rogue wave in Lynn Canal. The Fairweather was returning from Haines to Juneau on its regularly-scheduled route when the wave hit around 4 p.m. The vessel was carrying 101 passengers at the time, including the commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Juneau. At no time during the voyage were the passengers in any danger.

AMHS officials estimate the repairs, which must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, will take two weeks to accomplish. There were no injuries to passengers, and the Fairweather proceeded on to its berth at Auke Bay.

"It appears that the damage is limited to the cowling between the two hulls of the catamaran," said Deputy Commissioner Tom Briggs, who examined the vessel Friday morning with other AMHS officials. "We will further assess the damage, and will know more after we download data from the data recorder, the ship's 'black box.' We are hopeful that the repairs can be done in two weeks, but will have a better idea after we do a complete assessment."

The cowling is a non-structural, protective component of the vessel designed to deflect water from the front of the boat between the two hulls. It was bent inward by the force of the wave slamming into it.

According to the Coast Guard, several of the vessel's internal structural frames also suffered damage along with an 18-inch tear in the vessel's hull plating. All damage is about 14 feet above the waterline. Coast Guard marine inspectors examined the damage and are prohibiting the shipfrom carrying passengers or vehicles until satisfactory repairs are completed.

Briggs said ferry system officials have been in contact with Derecktor Shipyards in Connecticut, where the Fairweather was built, and will discuss the situation with the architect who designed the vessel, Nigel Gee and Associates in London, England. He expects the repairs to be made at the Auke Bay terminal.

Briggs said the AMHS managers are also looking at schedules to see how any of the other vessels in the fleet could be deployed to help fill in for the Fairweather while it is out of service.

A Coast Guard investigation is underway to determine the cause of the casualty. The vessel's master reduced speed during the voyage and crewmembers took steps to ensure the safety of the passengers.

The Coast Guard will remain engaged throughout the repair process and will review and approve all repair proposals.

We'll have an update on this story in the next issue of FERRIES & FAST CRAFT NEWS!

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