JUNEAU (AP) -- The state ferry Columbia is returning to service on Sunday, two days before all of the ferries will be back on their published summer schedules, state officials said.
The ferry system expected the Columbia to receive its certificate of inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday, which allows it to carry passengers, said Capt. George Capacci of the Alaska Marine Highway System.
''I expect they will be able to operate by close of business today,'' said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Paitl of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Juneau.
The Columbia has undergone a $10 million project to repair damage from a fire in June 2000 and to renovate the passenger cabins. The work at Alaska Ship and Drydock in Ketchikan was 54 days overdue, Capacci said.
The state will likely seek damages from the shipyard, he said.
Losing one of seven Southeast ferries, and the largest one at that, forced changes to the schedule throughout the system. About 47,000 passengers with reservations were rescheduled, Capacci said.
John Mazor, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, said travelers were reluctant to use the ferries because schedules were inconsistent and there were fewer trips. That was felt in local hotels and RV parks, he said.
The ferries bring about a quarter of Juneau's overnight guests. Hotel occupancy in Juneau is down about 8 percent so far this season compared with last year, Mazor said.
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