Engine trouble leaves state ferry Columbia awaiting repairs in Juneau

The ferry Columbia is tied up at the Ketchikan Shipyard in February, 2012.
The ferry Columbia is tied up at the Ketchikan Shipyard in February, 2012. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The state ferry Columbia broke down en route from Sitka to Petersburg Tuesday night, leaving passengers stranded in Juneau while the Alaska Department of Transportation worked to diagnose the vessel’s problems.

Meadow Bailey is the communications director for the Department of Transportation. She said Tuesday night around 9 o’clock the Columbia was traveling southbound from Sitka when one of its engines began to falter.

“When it was in Peril Strait there started to be some engine trouble. So the engine was shut off,” Bailey said Wednesday. “We have a technician, now, that’s in route and will arrive later in Juneau later this evening and will then work to diagnose what’s going on with the engine.”

Bailey said the Columbia decided to return to Juneau on one engine because it’s easier to fix a vessel in Juneau than it would have been in Petersburg. And it’s easier to reroute passengers from Juneau too.

“There was the opportunity to coordinate with the Malaspina so passengers would have an alternate way of getting to their destinations,” she said.

This isn’t the first time the Columbia has broken down. It experienced mechanical issues in February of 2018 and again in July, forcing many passengers to change travel plans during peak ferry season, then it was in dry dock for repairs this winter. Bailey says the engine issues the Columbia experienced Tuesday night are not connected to the problems from last year.

“The dry dock this winter, those repairs were routine maintenance. It was dry docked for 8 weeks which is standard,” Bailey said. “They were renewing the certificate of inspection, doing routine stuff like painting, cleaning, inspections, some steel repair. Nothing stood out at that time.”

It’s not clear how long the Columbia could be out of commission. Bailey said they’ll know more once the technician has made an assessment and determined what repairs need to be made to the engine.

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