Ferry system plans to hire dozens of workers

Washington State Ferries is looking to hire dozens of deckhands after worker shortages caused scrubbed sailings to spike at the end of the summer season.

The agency wants to retain 31 on-call deckhands who had been brought on for the summer, plus hire another 15 workers by the end of this year. That will get the agency to full staffing, officials said.

Money to pay for hiring and training the additional workers is in the 2013-15 transportation budget, according to agency spokeswoman Marta Coursey.

The labor moves are spurred by the rash of canceled runs Sept. 7 and 8 because of too few crew members. The U.S. Coast Guard requires minimum staffing levels on each class of vessel for safety and ferry officials said vacations, illness and other factors combined to deplete the ranks more than normal that weekend.

“Missed sailings are not acceptable period,” Department of Transportation spokesman Lars Erickson said this week.

That weekend wasn’t the first time boats didn’t sail because of staffing shortages.

There have been 82 canceled runs this year and roughly 50 sailings in the summer and early fall 2012, according to figures compiled by the state agency. Some of those scrubbed runs occurred on the Mukilteo-Clinton and Coupeville-Port Townsend routes.

Last year the U.S. Coast Guard instructed Washington State Ferries to increase the number of crew members on its largest vessels to improve safety. The agency spent $11 million to hire and train enough workers to comply.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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