Columbia "narrowly" escapes Campbell River

Alaska ferry catches fire in the narrows
By Grant Warkentin, Mirror Staff, Jul 05 2006

Emergency services were prepared for the worst after an engine fire crippled an American ferry near Campbell River July 1.

The MV Columbia, a 418-foot American ferry capable of carrying 625 passengers and 134 vehicles, was on its way from Bellingham, Wash., to Anchorage, Alaska, when there was an electrical fire in the engine room early in the morning on Canada Day. The fire began just before 5 a.m. and as it was passing through the Seymour Narrows near Separation Head the ship made a distress call to the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria.

Campbell River assistant fire chief Tim Paul said the ferry crew was able to get the fire under control and no one was hurt. “They contained the fire and put it out themselves,” he said. “There were no injuries from fire or smoke inhalation for the passengers and crew.”

However, the ferry’s captain brought the ship into Duncan Bay where the Coast Guard and Transport Canada gave it a thorough investigation to make sure it was seaworthy. While the ship was being investigated, local firefighters were ready at Catalyst’s Elk Falls paper mill, which has a dock big enough to receive the ferry. “We just stood by at the pulp mill dock,” Paul said.

Paul said emergency services were prepared for the worst. The fire department activated the city’s emergency preparedness plan, which is designed to streamline and hasten emergency services in the event of a disaster. Buses were ready to take ferry passengers to relief stations at the community centre. Canada customs was prepared to deal with the 352 American passengers and crew aboard the ferry, if they needed to disembark.

Security was beefed up at Catalyst’s dock to deal with the American vessel. The paper mill also activated its own emergency response team. However, said Paul, their services were not needed. No passengers or crew needed to get off the ferry and the ship was pronounced seaworthy. “The captain was satisfied he could make it back up to Anchorage, Alaska safely,” he said.

Paul said the incident was a good test of the city’s emergency preparedness plan. “Our plan works,” he said. “We got a really good exercise out of it and nobody got hurt.” Paul said the ferry’s captain was impressed with Campbell River’s response to the fire and offered compliments when the ship was finally back underway to Alaska.

From the company website...

The M/V Columbia is the largest vessel of the Marine Highway fleet. Launched by Lockheed Shipbuilding in Seattle in 1974, the Columbia is 418 feet long, with capacity for 625 passengers and 134 vehicles (20' lengths). Its 104 total cabins include 45 four-berth units, and 59 two-berth units, 3 of which are wheelchair accessible. The Columbia boasts both a fine dining room and a cafeteria. The gift shop, cocktail lounge, solarium, and forward observation lounge round out the passenger amenities.