The state ferry Columbia is awaiting repairs in Juneau, after it broke down in Peril Strait Tuesday night (Photo/DOT)

The state ferry Columbia broke down en route  from Sitka to Petersburg Tuesday night (5-7-19), leaving passengers stranded in Juneau while the DOT worked to diagnose the vessel’s problems.

Meadow Bailey is the communications director for the Alaska Department of Transportation. She says Tuesday night around 9 o’clock the Columbia was traveling southbound from Sitka when one of its engines began to falter.

“When it was in Peril Strait there started to be some engine trouble. So the engine was shut off,” Bailey says. “We have a technician, now,  that’s in route and will arrive later in Juneau later this evening and will then work to diagnose what’s going on with the engine.”

Bailey says the Columbia decided to return to Juneau on one engine because it’s easier to fix a vessel in Juneau than it would have been in Petersburg. And it’s easier to reroute passengers from Juneau too.

“There was the opportunity to coordinate with the Malaspina so passengers would have an alternate way of getting to their destinations,” she says.

This isn’t the first time the Columbia has broken down. It experienced mechanical issues in February of 2018 and again in July, forcing many passengers to change travel plans during peak ferry season, then it was in dry dock for repairs this winter. Bailey says the engine issues the Columbia experienced Tuesday night are not connected to the problems from last year.

“The dry dock this winter, those repairs were routine maintenance. It was dry docked for 8 weeks which is standard,” Bailey says. “They were renewing the certificate of inspection, doing routine stuff like painting, cleaning, inspections, some steel repair. Nothing stood out at that time.”

She says the Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan passengers will board the Malaspina tonight (Wednesday 5-8-19), but they’re still rebooking Bellingham passengers. It’s not clear how long the Columbia could be out of commission. Bailey says they’ll know more once the technician has made an assessment and determined what repairs need to be made to the engine.