Historic ferry Kalakala listing at Port of Tacoma

SEATTLE — Once the pride of Puget Sound, the historic ferry Kalakala is in such bad shape the Corps of Engineers could seize it and dismantle the vessel to prevent it from becoming a hazard to navigation.

The tipping point could have been last week’s storm, which left it listing badly at its mooring at Hylebos Waterway at the Port of Tacoma where the 276-foot vessel has been parked for six years. A sheen also was reported around the vessel, Coast Guard Petty Officer Nathan Bradshaw said Monday.

If the Kalakala were to block the waterway, it could cost the port millions of dollars in lost business, said corps spokesman Bill Dowell. The corps has a plan to take over the vessel and haul it away, if necessary, to keep the waterway open and prevent pollution.

“We would have to move the vessel, which means it would be destroyed and dismantled,” Dowell said. “Obviously we don’t want that to happen, but we have a plan in place should it be required.”

The Kalakala (pronounced kuh-LAHK’-uh-luh) may have been blown onto a sunken barge in last week’s storm, Dowell said. It’s listing at about 30 degrees.

It’s the latest indignity for the silver streamlined ferry that symbolized progress when it started carrying passengers on Puget Sound in 1935. After it was taken out of ferry service in 1967, it became a fish processing ship in Alaska.

The Kalakala was towed back to Washington in 1998 with great fanfare and the anticipation it would be preserved as a tourist attraction. It’s been towed from Seattle to Neah Bay to Tacoma. Efforts have failed to come up with the money.

In December, the Coast Guard and Corps of Engineers told owner Steve Rodrigues to make plans to move the Kalaka. He said he sold the Kalakala for $1 to an anonymous buyer who agreed to fix it up.

The listing and report of the sheen could force the corps to exercise its authority and declare the vessel a hazard to navigation.

“Once we make that determination, the process can’t be reversed,” said Dowell. “We don’t have the authority to haul it somewhere and let somebody take over and fix it.”

“It’s not a good situation,” he said. “Nobody wants this happen.”

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