Human error was the cause of a motor meltdown aboard the ferry Walla Walla last November, according to a report released Monday by Washington State Ferries. The total cost of repairing the ferry will reach $3 million, the report also concluded, far more than the $300,000 WSF estimated shortly after the incident.
The KING 5 Investigators first reported the Nov. 4 accident shortly after it happened and revealed then that the fire was preventable. The accident occurred while the boat was moored at Eagle Harbor Maintenance facility on Bainbridge Island.
According to the WSF report, engine room crew members did not understand the specific requirements needed for the complicated work they were attempting to complete. The report found that ferry workers in the engine room and electricians at Eagle Harbor didn’t communicate correctly with each other prior to starting the work. Ferry employees were attempting to clean portions of one of the boat’s drive motors just before the meltdown, which caused smoke to billow out of the room housing the motor.
A total of 14 people were working on the vessel at the time of the accident. No one was injured.
The motor was so badly damaged it was beyond repair. A spare motor sitting in a WSF warehouse had to be shipped to Los Angeles to be refurbished by General Electric and is being now being installed in the Walla Walla by Vigor Industrial.
The report on the accident will be forwarded to WSF's Director of Vessel Engineering Preservation and Maintenance and to human resources to determine if personnel actions need to occur, according to David Moseley, Washington State Department of Transportation assistant secretary, ferries division.
“I believe there are some errors that we all need to be held accountable for," Moseley said. He did not answer a question about what the repercussions could be or identify specific employees who may have been at fault.
“You can’t eliminate human error, ... but we need to take every step we can to minimize human error, and there are some recommendations in here that I think will be helpful to us in that regard," Moseley said.
Of five recommendations made in the report, Moseley said WSF has instituted two, including drafting a written check-list for “high-consequence”-but-infrequently-used maintenance procedures.
The Walla Walla is one of the biggest boats in the state’s fleet. It can carry 2,000 passengers and 188 vehicles. It typically sails on the Seattle-Bremerton run or the Edmonds-Kingston run. Smaller replacement boats are filling in during the repair.
WSF is working to bring the Walla Walla back into service in April following sea trials.
“We appreciate the traveling public’s patience during this time," Moseley said. "We have been able to make all of our sailings and all of our schedules, but with some boat moves. The Jumbos are some of our larger boats, so obviously we’ve had to serve some of our routes with a smaller boat.”
Moseley said the employees involved in the Nov. 4 incident "reported to me literally, immediately that weekend how badly they felt about creating this problem and that they know they are the stewards of this vessel."