State wants court to order fast ferry engine fix

Alaska’s Marine Highway System wants a court to order the fast-ferry builder to provide new engines for the ships.

State officials say engines on the Fairweather and Chenega are wearing out far faster than their warranties promised. Replacing the eight engines could cost in the range of $20 million.

The state filed a lawsuit last year, but continued talking to the manufacturer about a solution.

Captain Mike Neussl says the state is now asking the court for a preliminary injunction to force action before the engines wear out.

“If that happens, those vessels could be out of service before there’s an ultimate resolution. That would mean the state would lose use, and state residents and communities would lose use, of those vessels prior to the ultimate decision on that lawsuit,” he says.

He says quick action is needed because making new engines will take about a year.

The engines have already undergone repairs. Neussl says that has extended their operating life. But the repairs are not permanent.

The lawsuit and injunction motion are against Derecktor Shipyards, which build the ship, and subcontractors that built the engines. Derecktor officials could not be reached for immediate comment.

The injunction motion filed in Superior Court does not specify that new engines be built by the same manufacturer. But Neussl says that’s the likely solution.

“We have looked at alternatives, what other engines are out there that we could replace these engines with. And to be honest with you, there’s not any other diesel engines in the market place that meet the power-to-weight ratios that these engines have and would fit in the assigned space and have the correct weight to be used in these vessels,” he says.

The Fairweather, built in 2004, is based in Juneau and sails to Sitka and Petersburg. It’s scheduled to begin Angoon service next year. The Chenega, built in 2005, is based in Cordova and runs to Valdez and Whittier.

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