Staffing issues cancel 4 Mukilteo-Clinton ferry runs

MUKILTEO — Four ferry sailings between Mukilteo and Clinton were cancelled Monday morning because of a staffing issue, according to ferry officials.

More than 50 sailings have now been cancelled throughout the system since June because not enough crew members showed up for work.

The ferry system is still investigating what happened Monday but it appears that a dispatch error was responsible for the cancellation of sailings at 5:10 a.m. and 6 a.m. from Clinton and 5:35 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. from Mukilteo, spokeswoman Marta Coursey said. The scheduled relief employee on the route did not get the assignment from dispatch, she said.

In June, the ferry system, to shave costs, cut back the number of staff on some boats to the minimum recommended for safety by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Though it amounts to a reduction of only one employee per boat — in most cases, from 11 to 10 — this has left no margin for error when even one worker doesn’t get to the boat for one reason or another and it’s too late to find an on-call replacement, ferry chief David Moseley said.

Monday’s events brought the number of cancelled sailings on the Mukilteo-Clinton route to 12 since June. Six sailings have been cancelled on the Port Townsend-Coupeville run.

Systemwide, through Monday, 55 sailings have been cancelled and 11 boats have departed late, including one on the Edmonds-Kingston route.

In late October, the Coast Guard ordered the state to add back some staff, to the equivalent of one crewman per route on the jumbo class of ferries, the second-largest. These include the boats that run between Edmonds and Kingston but not those on the Mukilteo-Clinton run. The ferry system has until the end of November to add the staff.

In a concurrent problem, the ferry system today began shuffling ferries between routes to make up for the loss of the 188-car Walla Walla, which suffered an engine meltdown recently after undergoing maintenance. The Walla Walla — expected to be out of service at least until next spring — had been slated to start service soon on the Edmonds route.

Starting Monday, the 144-car Kaleetan was to replace the 202-car Puyallup on Edmonds-Kingston for about a month, serving with the 188-car Spokane.

This could result in longer wait times for people driving onto the ferries during peak times, including Thanksgiving travelers headed westbound Wednesday afternoon and eastbound Friday morning, spokeswoman Joy Goldenberg said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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