Engine-room fire sidelines ferry Columbia

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The state ferry Columbia was sidelined in Ketchikan Thursday after a fire broke out in the engine room, three years after a major overhaul was done to the vessel's electrical system.

The Columbia, the state's largest ferry, was carrying 170 passengers and 66 crew members when the fire started in the electrical center of the ship's second generator. No one was injured in the mishap, which occurred shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday, the Coast Guard said.

The ferry has four generators, including an emergency generator, but usually operates on one or two, said Petty Officer Sara Raymer.

Capt. George Capacci, general manager for the Alaska Marine Highway System, said the Columbia was on its way out of Petersburg headed for Wrangell when it lost power and the fire was discovered.

Engineers put the fire out with a hand-held extinguisher and the Columbia continued to Wrangell, then to Ketchikan, where it remained Thursday pending repairs and further investigation.

Capacci said the suspected cause of the fire was insulation failure in the generator. During the preliminary fire investigation, a separate problem a minor ground fault was discovered in another generator, Capacci said.

In June 2000, an electrical fire in the switchboard of the vessel crippled the ship. Marine Highway Officials pulled the ship from service until all of the switchboard wiring was pulled out and replaced.

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