The Alaska Marine Highway System ferries LeConte, left, and Fairweather at the Auke Bay Terminal on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Juneau Empire file)

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferries LeConte, left, and Fairweather at the Auke Bay Terminal on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Juneau Empire file)

Ferry passengers stranded without toilets

A pair of generators broke down on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry M/V LeConte Thursday afternoon, stranding 52 passengers on board without working toilets and no way to leave while the ship was docked for seven hours in Angoon.

The generators power the LeConte’s sewage system and a ramp used to board passengers and vehicles. Neither had power during the breakdown, AMHS spokesperson Aurah Landau said, meaning passengers were stranded on board without a working restroom. Other systems on board lost power as well.

Passengers used buckets of water and gravity to make some toilets work while they waited for technicians to fix the generators, Landau said, and ate ice cream from the LeConte’s thawing freezers.

“It was a very difficult situation on board,” Landau said.

To Landau’s knowledge, this was the first time an AMHS ferry has lost power completely. An emergency generator kept the LeConte’s bridge, emergency lighting, fire and de-watering pumps operable.

“Without the generators, there’s no sanitation, so it was very difficult for the passengers,” Landau said.

The vessel immediately encountered problems after docking in Angoon at 3 p.m. After assessing the problem, vessel crew called in technicians from Juneau, who flew via float plane at 6 p.m., Landau said. They were able to fix the generators by 9:45 p.m., and passengers departed the LeConte soon after. The boat then left Angoon en route to Juneau.

At 11:15 p.m., an alarm then sounded with the steering system, Landau said. AMHS believes the two mechanical issues are not related. Technicians looked at the system in the morning while the LeConte was docked in Auke Bay, delaying its departure from that port as well.

The U.S. Coast Guard inspected the steering system and cleared the vessel to sail Friday morning. The LeConte left Juneau at 10 a.m. Friday, continuing to the upper Lynn Canal cities of Haines and Skagway before returning to Juneau.

The smallest vessel in the state ferry fleet, the Leconte is part of an ageing fleet which has lost two vessels in the last five years. AMHS has also suffered budget cuts of $29 million in that same time period, Landau said.

The agency will conduct a investigation into what went wrong and if there’s any room for improvement in how crew and technicians handled their response to the breakdown, Landau said, a standard protocol when AMHS vessels encounter problems.

The LeConte also broke down in March, stranding 200 student-athletes travelling to a basketball tournament. Mechanical issues also docked the ferry last fall.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.

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