The Coast Guard has sent a letter to state and union officials, demanding that the Washington State Ferry system increase the number of crew members on several of their boats for safety reasons. In the 8-page letter, the Coast Guard said they made the decision by analyzing all of the responsibilities each crew must undertake.
“(We analyzed) the crew’s ability to perform normal duties of operation and maintenance, and their ability to perform emergency duties, such as firefighting, vessel evacuation, man overboard, and security threat response,” wrote Scott Ferguson, U.S. Coast Guard, Commander, Sector Puget Sound.
In response to the 2010 KING 5 investigation "Waste on the Water" the state ferry system implemented many cost saving measures including eliminating millions of tax dollars in unnecessary travel expenses and overtime. If Moseley's numbers are correct, the Coast Guard mandate will wipe out all of the savings realized by the new protocols.
KING 5 has obtained a WSDOT bulletin sent Tuesday night to members of the legislature briefing them on the order to have more staff on board some of the boats. Ferries Director, David Moseley, wrote the mandate will financially devastate the already broke ferry system. "...the preliminary budget impact of the Coast Guard decisions for the remainder of the (2011-2013) biennium is estimated to be $9.8-million," wrote Moseley.
The increase in crew staffing will affect the Jumbo class of 188-car vessels that run on the Edmonds-Kingston routes. The Coast Guard also wants more staff onboard the Super class, 144-car ferries which include the Elwha, Hyak, Yakima, and the Kaleetan.
The increase comes as the ferry system has experienced a record number of late and cancelled sailings due to staffing issues. The KING 5 Investigators have tracked 60 late or cancelled runs from June to present because employees have been late or missed work. Just yesterday, two early morning runs between Clinton and Mukilteo were cancelled because of a staffing issue.
But the Coast Guard’s mandated increase will not solve this problem. The new minimum crew levels are just that: minimums. That means if a person is late or misses work, the boat still will not sail as scheduled.
Unions that represent ferry employees have lobbied the Coast Guard to increase the minimum levels of crewing. In June the ferry system reduced the number of employees on several vessels to save money. That has angered many employees who did not believe sailing at the lower levels was safe.
“We’re definitely happy about it,” said Dennis Conklin of the Inland Boatman’s Union. “They should have never decreased manning in the first place. It was a safety issue. There are risk factors there.”
The Coast Guard ended the letter praising State Ferries for their safety record.
“The above changes are not an implication that WSF’s safety record is substandard. WSF does have a strong safety record, but as noted…WSF operates a large fleet in a demanding and complex operating environment that mandates providing essential resources to further protect the ferries from the low probability but high consequence event of a ferry collision or sinking,” said Commander Ferguson.