BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — "This is about a 2300 horsepower engine, it's a train locomotive engine," said Chad Scott who has worked in the underbelly of ferries since he was 19 years old.
"We are on the ferryboat Kaleetan and entering the number two engine room," said Scott. While the Kaleetan has differences from the Walla Walla's system, there are similarities. "This is one of our three ship service generators," said Scott.
Washington State Ferries said contaminated fuel caused the generator and backup generator to fail on April 16 when it ran aground near Bainbridge Island.
"It gives us all of our lights, our hydraulics, anything that needs power to run comes from these alternators behind it here," said Scott.
"Our fuel filters go into our generators and that means they lost a lot of their electrical systems including steering and propulsion," said Ian Sterling who is the spokesperson for Washington State Ferries.
Contamination can come from water, rust, algae growth to even paint particles. "We have laboratories testing those fuel samples, so we'll figure out where that contamination came from to ensure this doesn't happen again," said Sterling. When asked if the contamination came from a fuel source, Sterling said it's looking at every possibility.
Sterling said the crew had 90 seconds before the Walla Walla was grounded and its quick action is the reason there was minimal damage. Captain Eric Hairston said trust is essential, "You have to make sure the crew is ready to jump into action and it's why we do training weekly, we do train monthly, we do a lot of training."
None of the 600 passengers and crew on board were injured, the Coast Guard is leading the investigation.
Washington State Ferries said this won't happen again. "We're confident it's not going to happen again, we've done a couple of different things including scouring out that tank and all tanks, refueling with fresh fuel, testing that," said Sterling.
New gauges have been installed on the Walla Walla to allow for remote monitoring of the generators. There's no timeline for when the Coast Guard's investigation will be complete.