Suspicious package forces ferry evacuation

Suspicious package forces ferry evacuation »Play Video
Washington state ferry Puyallup, right, is seen at the Colman Dock in Seattle on Wednesday, August 22, 2007.
SEATTLE (AP) - A "suspicious package" was found at the height of the Wednesday morning commute on one of the largest ferries in the Washington state fleet, idling the vessel for about an hour.

The 460-foot Puyallup had just been emptied of cars and passengers after arriving at Colman Dock from Bainbridge Island about 8 a.m. when the package was found behind the toilet in the disabled passenger stall in the men's restroom, said Marta Coursey, a spokeswoman for the ferry system.

Following a search and examination by State Patrol troopers, the 2,500-passenger, 202-vehicle capacity ferry was cleared to resume service about 9 a.m., Coursey said.

During the shutdown service on the Seattle-Bainbridge and Seattle-Bremerton runs was maintained on the terminal's other main slip.

Earlier information from law enformcement officials indicating that the package contained sparklers was erroneous.

Patrol Sgt. Craig H. Johnson would not disclose any details on the object, describing it only as a "suspicious package," but said investigators determined it did not pose any immediate threat and carried it off the vessel for further examination.

No arrests were made and no identified individuals were being sought, but "we'd like to find the person who left it there," Johnson said.

The scare came amid heightened security in the ferry system following reports of "suspicious behavior" in recent weeks. On Monday the FBI released photographs of two men who were described as showing unusual interest in the vessels, Agent Roberta A. Burroughs said.

The FBI would not release further details of the men's behavior, Burroughs said.

"It appeared to the people that reported it to us that the men seemed to have an undue interest in the workings of the ferry and the ferry terminal," she said.

Several ferry employees and passengers reported the men to the FBI about a month ago, but agents have been unable to identify them and released the photos hoping members of the public would know who they are.

Neither man is considered a suspect or has been charged with a crime.

"We admit right up front that the behavior could be completely innocuous," Burroughs said.

Coursey said two Seattle-Bainbridge runs were canceled during the package scare.

"These things tend to delay the entire system," she added.

The Puyallup delay was the second ferry disruption during the morning commute. Less heavily used runs between Point Defiance in Tacoma and Tahlequah at the south end of Vashon Island were canceled until midmorning after about a dozen cracks were found during the wee hours in the state ferry Rhododendron.

The 48-car Rhododendron, built in 1947 and rebuilt in 1990, was taken to Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island after the chief engineer noticed the cracks in a 12-foot by 10-inch section on the starboard side about five feet above the water line, Coursey said.

The cracks ranged in width from a pinhole to a gap big enough for a finger and were near the rub rail, a ridge that is the first part of the boat to contact the dock.

The 34-car ferry Hiyu, built in 1967, was dispatched to resume service between Point Defiance and Tahlequah after 10 a.m.