Lawsuit filed over Alaska's faulty fast ferries‏

By Nick Rees | Mar 30, 2010

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Legal Newsline) - Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan has announced a lawsuit against the contractor responsible for the design and construction of Fairweather and Chenega's fast ferries.

"We're protecting the fiscal integrity of the state," Sullivan said. "We received a faulty product, and we intend to see that the citizens and taxpayers of Alaska are appropriately compensated."

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Alaska Marine Highway System, names Robert E. Derecktor Inc., the contractor responsible for the ferries' design and construction. Also named are MTU Friedrichshafen GmbH and MTU Detroit Diesel Inc., the companies responsible for the propulsion systems in the vessels.

The engines provided by MTU Friedrichshafen GmbH, a German manufacturer, and MTU Detroit Diesel Inc., its subsidiary, have caused numerous, continuing problems, including engine blocks that degrade, cracked cylinder liners, damaged reduction gear units, excessive propulsion system variation and prematurely spent components.

"Since we accepted delivery of the vessels in 2004 and 2005, the propulsion systems have been subject to recurrent problems," Jim Beedle, the deputy commissioner of marine operations with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said. "Given the ongoing problems and an approaching deadline for filing suit, the state has been compelled to take this unresolved issue to court. However, we have not ruled out further negotiations, if we can get a favorable result for Alaska."

One of the vessels, the Fairweather, suffered hairline cracks of all four of its diesel engines' steel sleeves in 2006, a typical problem of the vessels. The cracks led to a massive overhaul of the propulsion system, performed at the Ketchikan Ship and Drydock, which also fixed problems with bull gears, shafts and bearings. The work led to the initial in-service date for the Fairweather being pushed back by several months.

The state accepted delivery of the fast ferries, which are aluminum-hulled catamaran-style ferries capable of carrying up to 30 vehicles and 250 passengers while traveling at up to 40 miles per hour, in 2004 and 2005. The ships have been plagued with problems ever since, incurring several hundred thousand dollars of repair costs as they struggle to cope with heavy seas.

MTU Friedrichshafen GmbH no longer produces the model of engine installed in the Alaskan fast ferries. The state's suit says that the company has failed to maintain a necessary supply of replacement parts, which is required by contract.

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