Fuel leak disrupts Kingston-Edmonds morning ferry runs

Fuel leak disrupts Kingston-Edmonds morning ferry runs »Play Video
The Walla Walla is seen in a 2008 file photo. (WSDOT photo)
KINGSTON, Wash. - The Kingston-Edmonds ferry was pulled out of service for several hours Monday morning due to a fuel leak, but has now resumed its normal schedule, officials said.

Washington State Ferries spokesperson Marta Coursey said 15 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the ferry Walla Walla early Monday morning before service started, creating a sheen on the water.

Booms were then placed around both ferries on the run - the Walla Walla and Spokane - until crews could get it cleaned up. In the meantime, a total of 14 sailings were canceled from Edmonds and Kingston.

Limited one-boat service resumed on the route starting with the 10:25 a.m. sailing from Kingston and the 11:10 a.m. sailing out of Edmonds. That reduced the departures to half the usual number.

Normal two-boat service resumed with the 12:50 p.m. sailing from Kingston.

The Edmonds-Kingston route is the second busiest in the system, carrying 3.8 million passengers last year.

Monday's problems on the Kingston-Edmonds run were the latest in a series that has beset the state ferry system in recent weeks.

• On July 29, the ferry Tacoma broke down and began drifting with more than 400 people on board. Another ferry was diverted to help, pulling it away from shore until two tug boats could bring it into the dock.

• A few days later, smoke in the engine room of another vessel prompted the captain to have everyone don life jackets - the first time in recent memory such an order had been given.

• In mid-August, a ferry returned to the dock at Bremerton after the captain realized crews had allowed onboard an extra 484 people, many of them Seattle Seahawks football fans on their way to an exhibition game.

Personnel issues are also posing challenges. The ferry system has been without a director since the last one left in April. It says it needs dozens more employees. Sailings can wind up being canceled when workers call in sick, because the agency is so short-staffed there's sometimes no one to cover. The Coast Guard won't let the vessels depart without adequate crews.

Another top executive, operations director Steve Rodgers, has been on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons. His son, a former ferries ticket seller, is appealing his termination for taking $529 from a work account.

Officials are wondering whether the series of problems is just coincidence, or a more troubling sign of how deeply the state has cut into a transportation system that is a major economic driver and lifeline for many communities.