A state inquiry found that the ferry Cathlamet wasn’t truly overloaded on Aug. 15, the day it returned to Bremerton and 484 passengers had to walk off the vessel.
It turns out that the real number of passengers on the 4:20 p.m. run from Bremerton to Seattle was actually near the maximum allowable load of 1,200 people — the report’s best estimate is the vessel carried 1,073 passengers. But the crew thought the boat was overcrowded due to failures of the inexpensive hand-held counters that the dock staff carry, says the investigative report, which is linked here. Ferry workers thought incorrectly there were 1,684 people aboard.
The review was ordered by Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, and released to state lawmakers Monday afternoon.
As a result of the scare, the captain returned the boat to Bremerton, and at the urging of police hundreds of people walked back onshore, to take a later vessel. Despite the delays this caused, fans that were heading to a Seahawks exhibition football game made it to Seattle by kickoff, according to Capt. George Capacci, interim ferries director.
Ferry loading limits are tightly regulated by the Coast Guard, based on the ability to evacuate passengers on the water, using lifeboats plus available space on the nearby partner ferry of a two-ferry corridor. As the Cathlamet reached Seattle, the ship’s mate took an informal count that showed just over 600 passengers not in vehicles, when the boat unloaded in Seattle; and the inquiry also relied on video footage from the ship and the Bremerton terminal.
Coursey said ferry workers relied on clickers as opposed to visually estimating the crowd size, because Ferries work rules require a tally. “You have to have as accurate a count as you can to satisfy the Coast Guard regulation,” said Ferries spokeswoman Marta Coursey.
However, ferry workers told the investigator they’ve experienced or heard of clickers skipping numbers, and it even happened later in August, on less-busy runs.
Capacci ordered extra supervision and new procedures to prevent a repeat. These include having two dockside workers take counts of the walk-on passengers during busy days instead of just one person counting, said Coursey.
Aug. 15 presented problems because demand was high for ferry service due to the Seahawks game, Coursey said. She said ferry officials are discussing an equipment change, adding, “there’s a lot of technology out there.”
State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson provided this response through a spokesman: “I again apologize to the WSF customers impacted by this incident last month. While the miscount was the result of a faulty counting device, we are taking steps to make sure the passenger counts are accurate. The actions of the crew, when they thought the vessel was overloaded, demonstrated their commitment to safety, our top priority.”