Ferry repairs to impact Southeast service

JUNEAU — Ferry service in Southeast Alaska will soon be reduced as the Alaska Marine Highway System’s largest ferry gets sent away for repair work.

Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the agency, said the state’s budget cuts have not allowed for other ferries to fill in while the Columbia gets repaired. The 500-passenger ferry is heading to Portland, Oregon to have work done on one of its propellers, CoastAlaska News reported.

Sitka won’t have ferry service for two weeks because of the repair work. Other communities affected include Haines, Skagway, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Bellingham, Washington.

The Columbia has been operating on a delayed schedule and at a slower pace due to the damaged propeller.

“If you’re running shorter distances, maybe Haines to Skagway and back every day, you wouldn’t really notice that difference. But if you’re doing 18-hour, longer hauls, say Juneau to Ketchikan and Ketchikan to Bellingham, that two-knot difference really adds up,” Woodrow said.

Crews were alerted to the faulty propeller last week after noticing a vibration when the ferry ran at full speed, Woodrow said. Divers then inspected the ship, which is more than 40 years old, during a stop in Wrangell.

“They noticed that one of the blades had a noticeable bend to it, where it looked like it had been hit by something,” Woodrow said. “The assumption is maybe a submerged log or something along those lines that can do some damage to a large propeller like that.”

The Columbia will continue running through Sunday before heading to Oregon.

Woodrow said the ferry could be back in service by Oct. 7 “if repairs go as planned in Portland.”

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