Fast ferry Fairweather delays return to service

Fairweather crew members and shore staff get ready to tie up the fast ferry at Sitka’s terminal. The ship will resume service after inspection that delayed its first 2013 run by two weeks. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld.

The fast ferry Fairweather is returning to Southeast service a little later than expected. It had been scheduled to make its first 2013 sailing Feb. 28th. Instead, the Juneau-based ship will resume runs to Sitka, Haines and Skagway on March 14.

Marine Highway General Manager John Falvey says the Fairweather and its sister ship the Chenega needed detailed inspections before they could return to service this year.

“We had actually lost the operating certificates because of questions about the cylinders and the engines and whatnot,” he says.

Inspections are conducted by an international risk-management firm called DNV.

Engines on both ships had shown premature damage. (Scroll down for links to earlier reports.)

“We provided DNV-Oslo, Norway, with a lot of data regarding the current condition of the cylinders. We did a lot of ultrasound testing and DNV came to the conclusion that, for this season anyhow, both vessels would be safe to operate, and we’re going to go ahead and do so,” Falvey says.

Repair crews have bored out engine cylinders and inserted sleeves to keep them operating.

Falvey says too many repairs can weaken the lightweight engines.

A dedication plaque posted inside the fast ferry documents completion of the Fairweather’s hull.

“You need to be very careful that there is still enough metal and steel in those cylinder blocks so that you won’t have an accident with a piston potentially coming out the side of the engine,” he says.

“And we’re very confident that that will not happen, and DNV is very confident of that and so am I.”

The Chenega, a younger ship, returned to Prince William Sound service on schedule last month. It sails from Cordova to Valdez and Whittier.

The Fairweather was delayed because one engine was left unassembled. Falvey says that’s because the inspectors might have wanted additional testing. Reassembly and other work slowed the return to service.

The state last week announced a legal settlement with the manufacturers giving each ship a complete set of new engines.

The Fairweather will sail four days a week through June, splitting its time between the Juneau-Sitka run and the Juneau-Haines-Skagway sailing. In July, it increases service to seven days a week. It runs to Sitka six days a week and Petersburg one day a week.

Both fast ferries carry up to 250 passengers and 36 vehicles.

Hear earlier reports:

Marine highway plans to replace fast ferry engines 

Fast ferry builders, AMHS trade shots in dispute over engine problems

Fairweather could be out until spring

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