State ferries to add crew after missing sailings

Peninsula Daily News news sources

The state ferries system plans to add 45 deckhands to its workforce, an effort to prevent the staffing shortages that have canceled dozens of sailings, including ones between Port Townsend and Coupeville.

Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson called for the increase after 31 trips systemwide were canceled Sept. 7.

Among those were sailings on the second day of the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Town­send.

Vashon Island was largely isolated because of missed trips on the Vashon-Southworth-Fauntleroy triangle and the Tahlequah-Port Defiance route.

In all, staffing shortages have thwarted 82 crossings throughout the Puget Sound this year, Washington State Ferry officials said.

“Obviously we’re understaffed, so we haven’t been able to respond to the last-minute requests for relief to people calling in sick,” Peterson said.

Thirty deckhands who worked this summer will be retained at least half-time instead of being seasonally laid off, and 15 more will be hired by the end of this year, she said.

Job openings have been posted online for more-experienced deckhands to work next summer.

Peterson didn’t have a cost estimate yet for the added deckhands but told the newspaper that other things will not get done because staffing is more important.

“Missed sailings are not acceptable,” she said.

The Coast Guard requires specific combinations of deckhands, mates, engineers and pilots who can operate a vessel and evacuate up to 2,500 passengers in an emergency.

Typically, that means 11 crew, or up to 14 on the largest boats at peak times. If even one person doesn’t show up, a boat is stuck.

Dispatchers routinely were making 300 daily calls to fill shifts, with 800 on Sept. 7, said David Moseley, deputy transportation secretary for ferries, in his weekly online newsletter.

Moseley apologized last month and promised to fix the problem.

Last modified: October 09. 2013 6:02PM
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