Ferry Walla Walla runs aground in Rich Passage; Seattle-Bremerton service resumes Sunday

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – The state ferry Walla Walla ran aground on a Bainbridge Island beach in Rich Passage Saturday afternoon.

The incident was first reported at about 4:40 pm Washington State Ferries spokesperson Ian Sterling said it appeared that the Walla Walla, which was built in 1973 and rebuilt in 2003, had a generator failure of some sort that led to a loss of control on the vessel.

WSF announced late Saturday that the 124-car Issaquah ferry will replace the Walla Walla to start Sunday’s Bremerton-Seattle service. The first run will be at 7:45 am from Seattle.

Drivers who left cars on the Walla Walla after the ferry was evacuated will be able to pick them up at 9 am Sunday in Bremerton, according to an announcement Saturday evening.

No injuries were reported, although the agency said that a passenger suffered a medical emergency that was unrelated to the ground.

Sterling said that it didn’t immediately appear that there was major damage such as a hull breach on the vessel, noting, “We’ll see what damage there is once we get back to Bremerton.”

A Kitsap Transit passenger ferry docks along the Washington State Ferries vessel Walla Walla to transfer passengers after the Walla Walla ran aground while transiting Rich Passage and ended up on the shore near Lynwood Center on Bainbridge Island, Wash.  on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

A Kitsap Transit passenger ferry docks along the Washington State Ferries vessel Walla Walla to transfer passengers after the Walla Walla ran aground while transiting Rich Passage and ended up on the shore near Lynwood Center on Bainbridge Island, Wash. on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

Matt Holyoak, from Bremerton, was one of the nearly 600 passengers aboard the vessel. He reported: “There was an announcement made that said, ‘We have lost steering and propulsion. Everyone needs to get inside and brace for impact.’”

Holyoak said about five minutes after the announcement, the vessel slowly drifted into the beach. The impact was gentle, he said: “It wasn’t anything jarring, no one fell down.”

A Washington State Ferries crew member checks the depth of the water from the car deck of the Walla Walla after it ran aground while transiting the Rich Passage and ended up on the shore near Lynwood Center on Bainbridge Island, Wash.  on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

A Washington State Ferries crew member checks the depth of the water from the car deck of the Walla Walla after it ran aground while transiting the Rich Passage and ended up on the shore near Lynwood Center on Bainbridge Island, Wash. on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

WSF said that 596 passengers and 15 crew members were aboard the vessel. Those aboard donned life vests, and Kitsap Transit fast ferries were called to assist with evacuating them to Bremerton. Sterling said the agency would have to coordinate how passengers with the vehicles onboard the vessel would retrieve them.

Two galley employees on the vessel were giving away free food to those aboard, Sterling said.

A crowd of curious onlookers gathered on the beach on Bainbridge Island. As passengers wearing life jackets stood on the Walla Walla’s deck waiting to leave the vessel, some from the two groups waved at each other. Periodically, announcements over the vessel’s loudspeakers reminded passengers to wear their life jackets.

With low tide around 8 pm, the agency hopes that by around midnight the vessel will be able to float off the beach and be able to be towed back to Bremerton, Sterling said.

“We thank passengers for their patience,” he said. “We’re glad everyone’s OK, and we’re proud of our crew for the job they’ve done.”

Kitsap Transit canceled its evening sailings between Bremerton and Seattle and sent two passenger-only vessels, the Commander and the Waterman, to ferry riders from the Walla Walla into Bremerton. Both boats made multiple trips to the Walla Walla, beginning around 8:30 pm WSF said that as of 10 pm, all passengers had been taken by Kitsap Transit to Bremerton.

This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Ferry Walla Walla runs aground in Rich Passage

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