Faulty switch caused MV Coho to back into dock, investigation determines

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VICTORIA — A rear-end crash into an unused Inner Harbour dock by the MV Coho earlier this month has been blamed on a faulty switch that failed to tell the ferry to go forward.

The communications safety system failure between the bridge and the engine room caused the 341-foot Coho — which was backing away from its Victoria landing bound for Port Angeles — to splinter a government-owned, former floatplane dock that was empty, a Canadian safety unit announced Friday.

Guests at a waterfront hotel immediately behind the dock were startled as the Coho — which has plied the Port Angeles-Victoria route for 53 years with no such incident in memory, say its current owners — appeared headed toward them as they peered from their windows.

The ferry, which was unharmed, continued its 7:30 p.m. run on schedule after it was cleared to proceed by the Victoria harbormaster.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board’s marine investigation unit for the Pacific region determined that the crash was caused by an old, faulty switch in the telegraph system.

“[When Capt. Elmer Grasser] gives an order on the telegraph, there’s an indicator down below in the engine room that rings an alarm and tells what they want on the bridge,” Raymond Mathew, manager of the safety-board unit, told the Times Colonist of Victoria.

“The indicator down below didn’t go on.”

He said engine room crew noticed the indicator hadn’t gone off, and got on a direct phone line between the engine room and the bridge to remedy the error — as the aft struck the dock.

The broken switch was replaced in Port Angeles.

The collision still is being investigated by Transport Canada’s Marine Safety Unit and the U.S. Coast Guard, which is required to participate because the vessel is registered in the U.S.

Ryan Burles, president of Black Ball Ferry Line, which owns and operates the Coho, said the cause given by the Transportation Safety Board matches the company’s own conclusions.

Last modified: July 20. 2013 9:42AM
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