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Originally published November 13, 2013 at 7:41 PM | Page modified November 13, 2013 at 10:26 PM

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Ferry crew blamed in probe into accident that sank boat

The unfortunate encounter with a ferry that sank a sailboat between Orcas and Lopez islands in September was the result of human error and a lack of “situational awareness” on the part of the ferry captain and a trainee, an investigation into the crash says.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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The crew of the ferry Hyak could have avoided a Sept. 13 crash with a sailboat between Lopez and Orcas islands, according to an investigation by Washington State Ferries.

The collision is blamed on human errors and a lack of “situational awareness,” the agency said in releasing its report Wednesday.

While approaching Harney Channel, heading northwest, Capt. Patricia Whaley chose a path between the sailboat Tasya and another sailing vessel, believing there was ample room to pass, the report said.

Though fog covered much of the Puget Sound region that week, visibility was at least one mile, shortly after 1 p.m.

The second mate was at the helm as the Hyak left Lopez Island, the report said. The report says the captain was relying solely on radar.

As the ferry closed in on the Tasya, at 18 knots, the second mate warned the captain, who ordered the mate to steer to port (the left), and sound the horn if needed. The Tasya was under motor power going 6.5 knots.

The mate, who was in training and relatively new to the route, erroneously set the rudder to starboard (the right) for about four seconds, and didn’t sound the whistle, the report says. The captain then ordered the engines set in reverse.

“I knocked the second mate out of the way and went full astern,” Capt. Whaley recalled in a statement to the inquiry board.

About 10 seconds later, the 2700-ton Hyak overtook the 25-foot Tasya, puncturing its left rear.

Jack Gray, 68, of Chimacum, owner of the Tasya, and his dog, Pablo, were rescued by another boat. The Tasya sank while being towed to shore. A week later, Gray told the Port Townsend Leader the impact “sounded like a volcano going off, and everything got really dark, just black.”

Ferries chief David Moseley said it was the only ferryboat accident during his six years in charge of the agency. He called the report “thorough, complete, and exhaustive.”

The captain and second mate are on paid administrative leave, until WSF’s operations and human-resources managers review the investigation and decide on potential discipline, he said.

The report recommends a navigational refresher course for officers and that the ferry system consider installing voyage-data recorders (VDRs). Only two ferries have VDRs now, because they travel internationally to Sidney, B.C.

Still, the inquiry included speed and position data. The five-member inquiry board consisted of two captains, an engineer, and a safety manager from the ferry system, and a state transportation risk manager.

Moseley estimates the VDRs would cost $250,000 or more per vessel, and that navigational training would take several months. The ferry system is already shouldering extra training requirements to avert a repeat of staff shortages and canceled sailings this past summer.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or On Twitter @mikelindblom

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