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Washington State Ferries works on problem of aging fleet

September 6, 2018
Hyak out for a day

A sailboat cruises past the Hyak as the ferry is docked at the Anacortes terminal in July 2017.

Though the state ferry system has been plagued by breakdowns this summer, new vessels are on the way.

A new Olympic Class vessel with a price tag of about $122 million is expected to be put into service this fall, and Washington State Ferries is developing a long-range plan that will recommend new vessels to replace the oldest ferries, Deputy Director of Communications Dana Warr said in an email.

The plan will be delivered to the state Legislature in January, Warr said.

Over the past few weeks, bent propellers, motor issues and docked ferries caused some serious delays and interruptions in service at the Anacortes terminal, which serves the San Juan Islands and the route to Sidney, British Columbia.

The international route resumed Sept. 2 after being put on hold Aug. 23 through Sept. 1.

The ferry’s absence on that route likely meant a loss of profit of about $300,000. That doesn’t include what it would cost to pay the crew and for fuel and other charges to complete the trip, ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said.

Two ferries built in 1967, the MV Hyak and the Elwha, are currently out of commission.

The Elwha, one of two vessels legally able to make the trip to Canada, has been in dry dock since March and will likely stay there through Thanksgiving, Sterling said.

The Hyak has been out of the water since Aug. 23 due to “urgent motor repairs,” according to ferry staff.

“(Washington State Ferries) is building new vessels to replace our oldest vessels built during the 1950s and 1960s,” Warr said in an email. “Building new ferries helps us improve the safety, efficiency and helps us maintain service.”

Seven of 22 vessels in the Washington fleet are between 40 and 60 years old, she said. The aging fleet requires more maintenance to deal with problems such as steel corrosion, replacing or repairing obsolete equipment, and preservation projects that have been deferred, which leads to a higher risk of ferry breakdown.

About 16 million people have used the ferry system this year, according to a Washington State Ferries news release.

Passengers in June, July and August make up about one-third of the year’s passengers.

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