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Marine Log

November 22, 2007

WSF pulls Steel Electrics out of service

Washington State Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond announced Tuesdayday that Washington State Ferries (WSF) was puling all of the Steel Electric class vessels out of service after they completed their last run that day. This decision means that the Port Townsend-Keystone car ferry route will be closed until further notice.

Washington State Ferries owns four 80-year-old Steel Electric class vessels--Quinault, Klickitat, Illahee and Nisqually. These vessels predominantly serve the Port Townsend-Keystone and San Juan Islands inter-island routes. They are the only ferries in the system capable of operating in Keystone's narrow and shallow harbor.

"After meeting with staff concerning the most recent inspections of the Steel Electric hulls, I have decided that we must pull these ferries from service to examine each of the hulls more extensively," said Hammond. "Ongoing work on the Quinault has revealed significant hull pitting along the keel that likely extends to all four Steel Electric vessels."

Until Tuesday, two Steel Electrics had been operating--the Klickitat on the Port Townsend-Keystone route and the Illahee on the San Juan Islands inter-island route. The Klickitat was removed from the Port Townsend-Keystone route at the end of the service day Tuesday and the Illahee was tied up at Anacortes after its last sailing. On Wednesday afternoon, November 21, the Evergreen State began providing service on the San Juan Islands inter-island route.

"Safety is our number one priority," said Hammond. "It cannot be compromised. We have kept up with the repairs on these vessels, but we are at a turning point that requires emergency action.

"I realize the timing of this couldn't be worse," added Hammond. "It is Thanksgiving weekend. We are doing everything we can to make this easier on the traveling public and the communities we serve."

To help lessen the impacts of the loss of passenger-vehicle service on Port Townsend-Keystone, WSF will:

Operate three vessels on the Edmonds-Kingston route from Wednesday, November 21 to Sunday evening, November 25 to handle the extra traffic expected over the Thanksgiving weekend. This route is the best detour for people traveling from the Olympic Peninsula to Whidbey Island.

Operate the high-speed passenger ferry Snohomish between Port Townsend and Keystone. WSF is making every attempt to have the service up and running by Friday, November 23 to serve customers during their Thanksgiving travel. The passenger ferry will maintain the current schedule.

"We are working with local transit agencies as well as major local employers to help arrange transportation connections on both sides of the route," said Traci Brewer-Rogstad, WSF Deputy Executive Director/Chief of Staff.

"I have asked the ferry system to work with local shipyards to fast track a solution to get car ferry service back on this route as quickly as possible," said Paula Hammond. "Our first priority is to assess the full range of hull pitting in each vessel and determine the extent and the cost of needed repairs. Depending on what is found, the next step will be repair or retirement of the Steel Electrics.

"Our second priority is to expedite the vessel procurement process and to secure funding for new vessels on the Port Townsend-Keystone route. We are also researching the feasibility of hull replacement of the existing Steel Electrics, which might accelerate the timeframe for new vessels." Hammond said, "We are making these decisions with customer safety first in our mind."

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