Workers mistakenly allowed an extra 484 passengers to board a Seattle-bound ferry Friday afternoon, forcing the vessel to turn back to Bremerton.
Crew on the Cathlamet, scheduled to leave Bremerton at 4:20 p.m., thought the capacity was 1,600, so they allowed 1,684 people to board, Washington State Ferries spokeswoman Marta Coursey said. The capacity is 1,200 passengers.
Shortly after the ferry departed, staff realized their mistake, Coursey said.
“It appears that we overloaded the ferry,” she said.
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Passengers were delayed about an hour.
Crew members were using clickers to count the number of people who passed. Typically, before a vessel leaves the dock, a crew member communicates to the captain how many people are aboard, Coursey said. For some reason, the captain didn’t receive the information until after the ferry had left the dock.
The ferry was noticeably full, said Alisha Harrison, of Bremerton, who, like many of her fellow passengers, was headed to the Seahawks game.
“It was more crowded and smelly and ‘thick’ than I’ve ever seen,” Harrison said.
The ferry turned back to the dock almost immediately after it departed, Harrison said, and someone announced over the intercom that the ferry was over its load limit by 400 people. At first, no one moved.
“People started making jokes,” Harrison said in an email from the Seahawks game. “We all thought anyone wearing Chargers gear should have to swim.”
The announcements then became more serious, Harrison said, and someone said the ferry wasn’t leaving until 484 people got off. A few passengers left, and then law-enforcement officers came on board and asked more to leave. Harrison said she saw passengers tell officers that they were the first on board, but they were still asked to leave.
The 484 passengers who disembarked received a travel voucher, Coursey said.
Officials will begin an investigation on Monday, Coursey said. Both ferries that sail between Bremerton and Seattle have a capacity of 1,200 passengers, so it’s unclear why anyone thought the capacity was 1,600.
In a statement Friday evening, state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson apologized to the passengers who were impacted.
“Due to the safety concerns related to the overloading of the Cathlamet, a thorough review of this incident will take place and everyone in the chain of command at Washington State Ferries responsible for this oversight will be held accountable accordingly,” Peterson said in the statement.
Friday’s event came less than two weeks after the ferry Elwha had mechanical problems with one of the drive motors on an Aug. 3 trip from Friday Harbor to Anacortes. Passengers were told to congregate on the main passenger level and put on life vests after ferry officials noticed smoke coming from the motor.
And five days before that incident, the ferry Tacoma stalled near Bainbridge Island and had to be pushed to the Winslow terminal.
Also, on Friday, the Kitsap Sun reported that the operations director of Washington State Ferries has been put on administrative leave. Steve Rodgers was administratively reassigned to his home July 3, the Sun reported, citing a letter signed by Cam Gilmour, the state Department of Transportation’s chief operating officer.
He has to stay at home and be available by phone from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays during an investigation, according to the letter obtained by the Sun through a public-records request. The documents provided no reason for the action, the Sun said.
Rodgers’ son, Josh Rodgers, was fired from his ticket-selling job with the ferry system in December, the Sun reported, adding that he is appealing through the Inlandboatmen’s Union.
By 8 p.m. Friday, most of the passengers had arrived at their destinations, Coursey said.
Paul Ofsthun, who was headed to the Seahawks game, said an officer told him to get off the boat, even after he showed them his disability pass. He disembarked and got in line for a second ferry that left about an hour later.
“It was frustrating, but it wasn’t horrible,” said Ofsthun, who lives in Bremerton. “We got there right at about game time.”
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org