Coast Guard recommends license suspension in ferry accident

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The U.S. Coast Guard is recommending a state ferry captain's license be suspended for a month because he gave a wrong command that steered the ferry Kennicott into a rock earlier this month.

Coast Guard officials said Capt. Gary Anderson told a helmsman to steer left, instead of right, when the vessel was passing through the Wrangell Narrows near Petersburg on June 3.

The mishap occurred about 4:30 a.m. and Coast Guard spokesman Roger Wetherell said fatigue may have played a role.

No one was hurt and the ship continued on to Juneau, but repairs to the hull cost about $50,000 and kept the ship out of service for three days.

Wetherell said Anderson quickly realized his error, but heavy fog and the narrowness of the channel prevented the ship from correcting course soon enough to avoid the rock altogether.

Anderson, 53, of Olympia, Wash., has been operating vessels in Southeast since 1992 with the Alaska Marine Highway System and has transited the Wrangell Narrows many times, Wetherell said.

''He does have a good record without any prior incidents,'' Wetherell said.

That's one reason the Coast Guard investigator is recommending only a short-term license suspension, Wetherell said. John Sifling, captain of port for Southeast Alaska, will make the final decision on the penalty.

Anderson has been on paid administrative leave since the accident, said Capt. George Capacci, general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System. The ferry system's own investigation is not complete, and Capacci did not know whether the state would impose additional penalties.

But he had praise for Anderson's record. He has been a licensed deck officer for the ferry system since 1981 and a captain since 1992, Capacci said.

''I have utmost respect and confidence in Captain Anderson's ability,'' Capacci said. ''I wish I had only made one mistake in 22 years.''

Capacci said his understanding is that Anderson knew the direction the ship needed to go and actually extended his right arm as he commanded the helmsman to steer left.

''Wrangell Narrows, particularly the part they were in, just does not allow a momentary lapse like that,'' Capacci said. ''Ten or 15 seconds makes all the difference in the world there.''

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