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Ferry captain lost 'situational awareness' before vessel's 'hard landing' at West Seattle terminal

The collision at the Fauntleroy ferry terminal occurred on July 28, 2022. The Cathlamet "did not slow its speed" as it approached the dock.

SEATTLE — The captain of the Cathlamet ferry lost "situational awareness" before the vessel collided with an offshore dolphin at the Fauntleroy ferry terminal in July of 2022, according to an internal report conducted by Washington State Ferries.

After the vessel hit the dolphin - a structure that guides docking ferries - the captain asked the quartermaster, "What happened? What happened?" according to interviews conducted after the incident. The reason the captain may have lost awareness is unknown, as he refused to answer questions during the investigation.

"However, we can conclude that his loss of situational awareness was the primary cause of this incident, and that absent this loss of situational awareness, the allision would most likely not have occurred," the report concludes. 

Allision means dashing against. 

The captain's name was redacted from the report by Washington State Ferries.

The collision occurred on July 28, 2022. The Cathlamet "did not slow its speed" as it approached the dock, traveling at approximately 15 knots at the time, according to the report.

The collision $7.7 million in damage to the vessel. The dolphin is primarily made from a wood piling with steel and concrete, which made a sizeable tear on the front right side of the ferry.

There was one minor injury to a passenger, and one vehicle was damaged and unable to be immediately removed from the vessel, according to the report from Washington State Ferries.

Drug and alcohol tests for the entire crew came back negative, according to a ferry spokesperson.

The captain of the Cathlamet at the time of the collision resigned after the incident. When initially interviewed about the incident, the captain responded to each question with, "On advice of my attorney, I decline to answer the question," according to the report. 

It is possible for an employee to be criminally charged, but according to Elizabeth Ford with Seattle University’s School of Law, you’d have to prove intent.

“It’s very rare for someone to be charged criminally for something that happened in the workplace and particularly if that thing was negligence for example,” Ford said.

Marko Liias, the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the incident "underscores the need to get more boats in our fleet."

We need replacement vessels and we just need newer vessels so when these unfortunate accidents happen, we can bounce back from them even quicker,” Liias added.

The Cathlamet returned to service March 31 on the Edmonds-Kingston route after being repaired.

It will return to the Fauntleroy-Vashon run the week of April 10.

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