The Columbia runs a route from north to south in Southeast Alaska. It serves Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines and Skagway. But on January 19th, the ferry was pulled from its route unexpectedly.
Aurah Landau is a Spokeswoman with the Alaska Department of Transportation. She says they noticed the Columbia had problems when it was approaching the dock in Bellingham. A part called the bow thruster had broken.
“The bow thruster is a propulsion device that makes it more maneuverable so it’s needed for getting in and out of some ports and getting through tricky spots like the Wrangell Narrows.”
The Wrangell Narrows is a small water way near Petersburg, running between Mitkof and Kupreanof Islands.
The Columbia is one of the state’s largest ferries. It is 418-feet long and can carry up to 500 passengers and over 130 vehicles. It’s also 44 years old. Back in 2013, it went into a Portland shipyard for nearly nine months to have its engines, propellers and lifeboats replaced.
Landau says a team of technicians has been working on the boat at the Bellingham dock.
“We were hoping that they would get it done in a rush amount of time and we’d be able to turn the Columbia around to start the run but the repair has taken a few days longer,” Landau said, “and so to be conservative the Marine Highway System has canceled all the runs for next week and we’re scheduling people for runs again starting February 2nd.”
It’s unknown how many passengers will be affected by the break down. There were 105 people scheduled to leave Bellingham today (Friday) along with 69 vehicles. That doesn’t include others that would have been picked up and dropped off along the northern route to Lynn Canal.
Landau says the Marine Highway System apologizes for the inconvenience from the delays and cancelations.
“We have rescheduled people on other ferries to try to accommodate them and there’s just not a lot of wiggle room in the number of boats available and the schedules at this point,” she said.
The 235-foot day boat LeConte, which makes stops in northern Southeast, is the only ferry operating in Southeast Alaska at this time.