Update: West Seattle Water Taxi evacuated after engine-room smoke; service resumed late morning

(TOPLINE: Water Taxi evacuated 7:30 am after smoke led captain to return it to dock. Service resuming at 11:30 from Pier 50 with Melissa Ann)

(Added, photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB – firefighters on board Rachel Marie)
FIRST REPORT, 7:38 AM: Just got an alert that the West Seattle Water Taxi is having mechanical trouble and has returned to Seacrest. Jana, who was on the sailing, tweeted that a “strong smell (was) emanating from the engine room.”

And now the Fire Department is headed there as a fire response. More to come.

(Photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB)
7:45 AM UPDATE: About half the units have been canceled, as they have determined it’s not a major fire after all, but what’s there is still causing a traffic jam-up at Seacrest in addition to having interrupted Water Taxi service.

7:50 AM UPDATE: And yes, if you’ve heard a helicopter, it’s related – at least one media chopper was checking out the situation. Per scanner, we’re hearing that they have not found flames – just some “burned wires” so far. Updated a few minutes later – apparent “burned-out alternator.” A city fireboat is at Seacrest too – just added photo from WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli.

8:05 AM UPDATE: Harbor Avenue remains blocked around Seacrest. Thanks to Toni for this overview:

No indication of injuries at this point. Update regarding service, from Christopher:

Rachel Marie captain Tara Rochester tells me that they had just departed Seacrest for downtown when the Rachel Marie started to fill with smoke. They returned to the dock. Everyone got off OK. One of the engines was on fire. Rochester says no replacement vessel available now but they’ll probably have something worked out for the afternoon.

8:20 AM UPDATE: April, who’s on board the 37 after having been evacuated from the Water Taxi when it returned, says she and others then had to wait to get through on Harbor. In comments, Paul says the road has just reopened, and WSB’s Patrick Sand at the scene has just confirmed that.

8:27 AM UPDATE: SFD spokesperson Kyle Moore has briefed the media at the scene. He says captain Rochester did all the right things in getting Rachel Marie back to the dock so everyone could get out safely. The fire was confined to the engine room. TRAFFIC UPDATE – Patrick reports that while traffic is being allowed to use Harbor going TOWARD the bridge, the westbound direction toward Seacrest is still blocked at Fairmount.

9:03 AM UPDATE: Harbor Avenue has reopened, according to police. Here’s our video of the briefing by SFD’s Moore:

Water Taxi management says via a text alert, “Plans for repairs and resuming service are under way.”

(Photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB)
10:38 AM UPDATE: Forwarded by County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who chairs the board that oversees the King County Ferry District, including Water Taxi matters, an update from Paul Brodeur, county Marine Division director:

This morning’s incident on the RM was a failed alternation on the port generator.

This is a small (one gallon milk jug size) 12 volt electrical unit that charges the batteries which start the prime mover. Just to put it in perspective, your car has one of these alternators which also charges your cars battery. This failure caused smoke -NO FIRE – When the captain was notified of the smoke, she took appropriate action and the trained crew responded by securing fuel and air to the engineroom.She secured the vessel at the dock and the crew debarked the passengers with no injuries. The Us Coast Guard and the Seattle fire department responded and Seattle fire provided assistance.

The USCG is currently aboard and taking crew statements. We are awaiting their investigation and permission to move the vessel back to pier 50 at which time service can resume using the Melissa Ann.

11:14 AM UPDATE: The Rachel Marie has headed downtown (per MarineTraffic.com and a sighting from Sunny near the pier). We’ll update when we see/hear Melissa Ann taking its place. (A few minutes later) From Councilmember McDermott: “We are notifying passengers that we will resume West Seattle service with the 11:30 a.m. Pier 50 sailing. Our current plan is to repair the Rachel Marie this afternoon in time for the afternoon/evening sailings.”

4:10 PM UPDATE: Jeff Switzer with King County DOT confirms that Rachel Marie has been fixed and cleared to return to service, and should be leaving downtown around 4:15 pm.

21 Replies to "Update: West Seattle Water Taxi evacuated after engine-room smoke; service resumed late morning"

  • Stephanie Juha August 10, 2012 (7:42 am)

    Firemen on board with hoses pulled onto the boat. Helicopter flying overhead.

  • Sunny August 10, 2012 (7:44 am)

    Firetucks here. Hoses out. Fire boat pulling up. Helicopter overhead. Taxi at dock. No signs of smoke.

  • miws August 10, 2012 (7:58 am)

    I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but this is another example of how “on top of it” WSB is when reporting our local news. I received the same e-mail alert, time-stamped 7:36. Time stamp of the first report here; 7:38.


    We loves us some WSB!! :-)



  • Lauren August 10, 2012 (8:00 am)

    Is Harbor still closed? I’m trying to find out if the 37 bus is being rerouted.

    • WSB August 10, 2012 (8:09 am)

      Lauren, at this moment, yes. Added photos of the fire response which shows why. Will update as soon as we hear a Metro update on bus routes.

  • Paul August 10, 2012 (8:13 am)

    Trucks look like they’re packing up. Harbor Ave. should be open in a few minutes.

  • Paul August 10, 2012 (8:19 am)

    Harbor Avenue now open to traffic.

    • WSB August 10, 2012 (8:31 am)

      Thanks – our crew leaving the scene has one clarification – bridge-bound traffic is being allowed through right now (8:30 am) but traffic TOWARD Seacrest is still diverting at Fairmount.

  • bridge to somewhere August 10, 2012 (8:38 am)

    Seems like every few months the West Seattle Ferry is breaking-down. These boats are definitely nowhere near as reliable as the big ships that run on the Bainbridge/Vashon/San Juan runs.

  • jiggers August 10, 2012 (8:44 am)

    That Water Taxi has had more mechanical problems than I can count..

  • Grundle August 10, 2012 (9:37 am)

    It’s funny how this was considered serious enough to close Harbor Ave, but not serious enough to clear the fishermen off the pier.

    • WSB August 10, 2012 (9:57 am)

      Harbor Ave. closed simply because there were too many fire engines to get through, and the nature of the original call required that many units, initially (with, as we noted in various channels, many of them being called off fairly quickly). Since the firefighters didn’t need the pier (one of our crews had no trouble getting up there for his vantage point), and it didn’t take long for them to figure out the problem was in a contained room inside the boat, no need to evacuate those who were fishing…

  • April August 10, 2012 (10:27 am)

    Thank you to the Water Taxi crew for doing a great job getting us back to shore and off the ship quickly and safely. And thank you to West Seattle Blog for your awesome coverage as usual! And sorry for all my emails. :)

    • WSB August 10, 2012 (10:44 am)

      Don’t EVER apologize – we so appreciate LOTS of info from folks. You were direct contact with the “evacuated then boarded the 37 then got stuck on Harbor” contingent. Thank you again so much. We also share different bits of information on Twitter and Facebook as well as here on the website, so even the web report doesn’t always fully reflect everything we have shared courtesy of people with direct knowledge (like you) of what was going on.

  • Rick August 10, 2012 (11:41 am)

    Hey now, fishing IS serious business!

  • Christopher Boffoli August 10, 2012 (12:51 pm)

    Kudos to calm/cool/professional captain Tara Rochester who got right back to the dock at the first sign of trouble and then was giving away all of the credit to the passengers for the orderly, panic-free disembarkation. When I asked her if there were any passenger injuries she said, “No, you know, they’re all West Seattlites so…”

  • cascadianone August 10, 2012 (12:52 pm)

    +1 to the comment about this boat always breaking down. What a clunker! Hope they keep enough life vests aboard…

    • WSB August 10, 2012 (1:24 pm)

      Since this one has gotten so long, we’ll be breaking out the information we asked for, and have received, regarding the status of new boats.

  • metrognome August 10, 2012 (3:35 pm)

    what was that famous Deep Purple rock anthem? Oh, yeah, ‘Smoke On The Water Taxi’ …
    Congrats to passengers and crew for making it an uneventful event and to Seattle Fire Dept and US Coast Guard for their quick response.

  • Pibal August 11, 2012 (9:47 am)

    Tracy, one question:
    Why is it that Councilman McDermott is the one providing the answers instead of the SDOT Marine Division? Just seems to be an unusual information flow… Thanks!

    • WSB August 11, 2012 (11:32 am)

      P – It was an unusual chain of events. One of the comments early on in all this reminded me that I hadn’t gotten a status report for a while on the new boats, so I e-mailed the CM and a staffer of his to ask for their status – they are my usual contacts if I’m asking about big-picture things like that, since these are items that are more in the political realm for starters, going through budget processes etc. The staffer in question happened to be out of the office, so the CM replied. He also assisted me in getting answers regarding the situation for a variety of factors primarily: The Marine Division does not have its own PIO, so the Dept. of Transportation speaks for it, and their team has been in transition, with one longtime staffer having just left and another one having been out yesterday, so there was a little bit of information void early on, from that direction. As the day moved on, the information flow moved along more regular channels (and new DOT communications person Jeff Switzer was very helpful!) but CM McDermott and I remained in contact because among other things he also had, in the absence of the staffer to whom it would be delegated, looked up the info on the new boats’ status. (That later became the subject of a full-blown county news release, but by that point I’d already published our story, so we included the news release link as a BTW.) All this is not to say that elected officials are off-limits as sources of information – they are ultimately accountable, so when needed, which is not THAT often, I won’t hesitate to contact them, at any level – TR

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