Official Number:D949139 Call Sign:WAA6310 Length: 112' Beam: 25' Draft: 8' Horsepower: 2,840 Speed in Knots: 25 Max Passengers: 230
City Built: New Orleans Year Built/Re-built: 1989 Name Translation: From the Calama language: "pretty maiden."
Official Number: D949140 Call Sign: WAA6309 Length: 112' Draft: 8' Beam: 25' Horsepower: 3,840 Speed in Knots: 25 Max Passengers: 230
City Built: New Orleans Year Built/Re-built: 1989 Name Translation: The meaning is now unfortunately lost, but a county and river are named after this Northwest Washington tribe.
Final Disposition: Skagit--Sank while dangerously overloaded on 18 July 2012 with an estimated death toll of 293; Kalama was removed from service
Vallejo, November 1989: the Skagit and Kalama far from home waters working after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo courtesy of Brandon Moser.
| With the promise of passenger only service realized with the Express (later Tyee) WSF ordered a pair of new boats to expand the service. The two, named Skagit and Kalama were built for five million dollars in 1989 by Halter Marine of New Orleans. The original design of these boats were cbased on one used to ferry offshore crew
to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. WSF altered the superstructure by adding another deck to accommodate more passengers.
Arriving in the fall of 1989 the boats along with the Tyee were tied up. There were no funds to run them. The state's newest members of the fleet sat unused and in limbo.
The Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco put the boats to work. Loaned to the city while the bridges were down, the ferries proved their worth--and it would turn out to be their finest moment.
Returning to Puget Sound, the ferries went into service...and soon after the complaints began.
Designed for the Gulf of Mexico, the boats rolled with the waves. The cabins proved to be uncomfortable, freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer. The residents along Rich Passage began complaining about erosion on their beaches due to the the large wake the ferries produced. To appease property owners, WSF slowed the boats.
They were successful on the direct route from Vashon to down town Seattle, where the open water presented no issues with the wake.
The pair proved to be unreliable and subject to frequent breakdowns. When Washington State Ferries started a new passenger only program with the Chinook and Snohomish, plans called for the Skagit and Kalama to be retired. Instead, the ax fell on the passenger only program in 2005. The Chinook and Snohomish were pulled off the Bremerton run and the full scale dismantling of the passenger only fleet started, beginning with the auction of the Tyee on eBay.
The Skagit and Kalama were assigned to carry on at Vashon. The commuters on Vashon Island remained grateful for their ungainly boats. The two provide the link from the Island directly to downtown Seattle, instead of going to the dock at Fauntleroy in West Seattle as the auto boats do.
In the winter of 2006, the legislature directed the sale of the Chinook and Snohomish. The remaining passenger only run between Vashon Island and down town Seattle was to be discontinued by Washington State Ferries by 2009.
After the summer schedule of 2009 King County took over the Vashon-Seattle run, using the 149 passenger catamaran Melissa Ann. King County has plans to lease up to three 149-passenger vessels: one for Vashon; one for the water taxi; and one for backup. Eventually the county will buy its own fleet.
The Skagit and Kalama were declared surplus in the fall of 2009. The state tried to sell them on eBay but were unsuccessful. The pair were finally sold in 2011 and transported to Tanzania where they would provide service between the mainland and Zanzibar.
On 18 July, 2012, after encountering heavy winds, the Skagit capsized off the coast of Zanzibar. A resulting inquest by Tanzanian authorities found the ferry had been dangerously overloaded, carrying an estimated 447 people--well over its capacity. The final death toll from the disaster is a staggering 293 dead--although officially 81 are listed as dead and 212 as "missing."
|At left, a photo by the author about 1999, showing the Skagit heading into the passenger only dock in Seattle. At right, a magazine clipping showing how the ferries looked in their all-white livery. Courtesy of Brandon Moser.|