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Ferry frustrations continue: Walla Walla out of service for weeks due to propeller damage

The vessel will need to be taken to a dry dock so crews can replace the damaged propeller.

SEATTLE — Washington State Ferries (WSF) announced Monday the Walla Walla ferry will be out of service for up to four weeks. 

The ship was pulled from service early Friday afternoon when those aboard reported a “large vibration." After an inspection, WSF found damage to one of its propellers. The vessel will need to be dry-docked in order for crews to replace it.

According to WSF, dry-docking is when a vessel is put into a special dock where the water can rise for the ferry to float in or out or be drained to allow for work on the parts of the boat that are usually underwater.

The state’s ferry system is the largest fleet of its kind in the country with 21 ships. Back in April the Walla Walla, the same vessel pulled from service, went aground near Bainbridge Island after a generator failed on the boat – the vessel is over 50 years old.

Vashon Island residents spoke candidly and passionately about the failings of the state's ferry system. An issue that’s especially important as it’s their only way to get on and off the island – a canceled boat is a big deal. 

“The ferry system has deteriorated to be unacceptable basically on any biases, people can’t count on boats getting off the island,” said longtime Vashon Island resident Pat Call. “They have to go two or three hours in advance if they have a doctor’s appointment business gets disrupted, it’s a problem that needs serious high-level management attention,” he continued. 

Monday evening inside Vashon Island High School, the chamber of commerce hosted a town hall-style meeting. State Ferry Management not mincing words – pointing to a national maritime labor shortage. 

“We’re in this position where we know the public has come back, the ridership has come back. But we don’t have those folks, and coast guard employees, navy employees they don’t Puget sound pilotage – there is no one to do it,” said John Vezina of the Washington State Ferries

According to Washington State Ferry’s own statistics, the reliability of the Fauntleroy to Vashon and Southworth route has dropped year to year with the exception of 2020. 91.8% of ferries on that route departed on time in 2018 which dropped to 84.1% in 2022. 

“If people can’t get groceries on the shelves. If people can’t get auto parts to the auto parts store – that impacts the folks that live on the island just as much as it impacts the people that want to come visit the island,” said Amy Drayer of the Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce          

The chamber promised solutions as all the complaints gathered here will be packaged and sent straight to Olympia – so that if nothing else, their voices will be heard.

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