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These Alaska ferry passengers in Bellingham had to make other travel plans

Suspected engine fire forces evacuation from Alaska ferry at Bellingham terminal

Bellingham Fire crews assisted the Alaska Marine Highway System with what was suspected to be a small engine fire aboard the Columbia at the ferry terminal in Bellingham, Washington on Friday, June 29, 2018.
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Bellingham Fire crews assisted the Alaska Marine Highway System with what was suspected to be a small engine fire aboard the Columbia at the ferry terminal in Bellingham, Washington on Friday, June 29, 2018.

A mechanical breakdown caused diesel engine exhaust to flow inside a ferry at the Fairhaven dock Friday, damaging the ship's bow thruster engine and delaying its departure for two weeks, Alaska Marine Highway System officials said Tuesday.

On Monday the agency estimated repairs would take one week.

Aurah Landau, spokeswoman for the Alaska Marine Highway System, said she wasn't sure what specific part failed, but the MV Columbia's turbocharger and engine exhaust system were undergoing repairs.

A cost estimate wasn't immediately available.

"The Columbia needs significant repairs which will require the manufacturing of new bow thruster exhaust system components," Landau said in a statement.

Columbia's scheduled June 29 and July 6 trips to Ketchikan have been canceled, she said.

Landau said the ferry's next sailing will be 6 p.m. July 12 from Bellingham, arriving in Ketchikan at 7 a.m. July 14.

"The Columbia needs significant repairs which will require the manufacturing of new bow thruster exhaust system components, Landau said. "The Columbia will be moved from AMHS' Bellingham ferry terminal to Bellingham's Fairhaven Shipyard because shipyard support is needed and the MV Kennecott needs to dock at the ferry terminal on (Saturday)."

Landau apologized to passengers in Bellingham and elsewhere along the vessel's route and recognized that many travelers' plans were inconvenienced — including those who had planned to sail to Bellingham from Alaska this week.

In response, Alaska Marine Highway System froze its booking system until all passengers that had been scheduled to leave Friday were able to make other plans.

"AMHS does not have extra vessels available to cover the canceled trip," she said. "AMHS recognizes the cost, inconvenience, and disruption to travelers, and apologizes to affected passengers and ports."

Landau said 300 passengers, and 134 vehicles, who had been scheduled to leave Friday would be booked on other sailings or issued refunds.

Passengers were evacuated from the Columbia about 8:15 a.m. Friday, when black smoke was seen pouring from a forward vent near the waterline.

Bellingham firefighters joined the Columbia's firefighting crew to investigate the incident, said Assistant Chief Bill Hewett.

A room housing the bow thruster engine was sealed and the ship's carbon dioxide fire-suppression system was used.

Air in the room was replaced with carbon dioxide and later vented to allow people inside to assess the damage.

By Friday evening, inspectors determined that the Columbia couldn't sail without repairs, Landau said.

A replacement turbocharger was available, but other parts were being flown to Bellingham from Texas, she said.

Columbia arrived at the Bellingham Cruise terminal about 8 a.m. Friday from Ketchikan, Alaska, with 190 passengers and 128 cars.

About half had disembarked before fire alarms sounded and an evacuation was ordered, Landau said.

According to the Alaska Marine Highway's website, the MV Columbia was built in 1974 in Seattle.

It can carry 600 passengers and 134 vehicles.

The state-run Alaska Marine Highway System offers year-round ferry service from Bellingham to the Inside Passage communities and Haines, Alaska, according to the Viking Travel Inc. website.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty
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