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Originally published March 25, 2013 at 8:25 PM | Page modified March 26, 2013 at 12:21 PM

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4 ferry runs canceled due to missing workers

Ferry-staffing levels are so tight that a single absence can delay hundreds of travelers, Washington state transportation officials say.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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Four ferry sailings were canceled Monday morning because of worker absences, delaying hundreds of travelers and showing how fragile the nation’s largest marine-highway network has become.

“If one person doesn’t show up, we can’t sail,” said David Moseley, head of Washington State Ferries.

Missed were the 5:45 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. departures from Vashon to Fauntleroy, the 6:10 a.m. trip from Fauntleroy to Vashon, and the 5:35 a.m. trip from Mukilteo to Clinton on Whidbey Island.

On the Vashon-Fauntleroy runs, a captain was on vacation but was mistakenly shown as on duty in dispatch records, said spokeswoman Marta Coursey.

On the Mukilteo run, one deckhand called in sick and another overslept, Moseley said. A 2012 Coast Guard directive requires at least 11 crew members on that boat, he said.

Moseley said the state will pay $14.5 million in the next two years in added wages to assure full staffing on four vessels the Coast Guard emphasized.

Sunday was the first day of the new spring schedule, which Coursey said makes errors more likely. “It’s fairly common to have one or two glitches,” she said.

Because those were early trips, the ferry system was unable to fill the vacancies fast enough. Moseley said a similar problem resulted in a few canceled trips last summer.

Moseley said he’s negotiating with labor unions to find better ways to replace absent crew, but those cost more money.

One idea is to pay a partial wage to a few standby workers for guaranteeing they will cover a shift on-call, he said.

King County Metro Transit pays several drivers daily to sign up for the so-called “extra board” and wait at a base for assignments.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom

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