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Disabled Ferry TACOMA’s Power Loss Caused by Power Surge from Ship Design Flaw

Why did the ferry TACOMA lose power during a routine run from Seattle to Bainbridge Island last summer?

“We have found the problem, and we have identified a fix for it,” said Lynne Griffith, Assistant Secretary for the state Ferries Division.

A power surge caused by a design flaw destroyed the power cables in the ferry’s circuit breaker control, causing the ship to lose power as it approached Bainbridge Island on July 29, 2014.

Mark Nitchman, staff chief engineer of the TACOMA, said it was the first time in the ferry’s 17-year history that such a surge had been seen.

The ferry MV TACOMA lost power as it headed towards Bainbridge Island with more than 400 passengers aboard. The crew dropped anchor, the first time in 30 years for a WA state ferry, so the ferry wouldn’t drift with the current and hit the island. The tugboat LINDSEY FOSS towed the TACOMA to Eagle Harbor.

“This was not caused by the way we operate the vessel, nor was it related to any of our maintenance practices,” Griffin said.

A minor design modification will be needed on the TACOMA and its sister ships in the Jumbo Mark II Class to include additional redundancies, Griffith said, so the problem doesn’t happen again. She also said that the technology to find this flaw didn’t exist when the ferry was built in 1997.

The repair plan has been submitted to the Coast Guard, who must approve it before repairs can be made. WA State ferry officials estimate that the repairs on the TACOMA and sister ships will cost $1.8 million, and the TACOMA might not be back to work until Spring 2015.