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Dawn of uncertain timesA search for explosives put the Wenatchee out of action Monday.
On the newsstands, the morning headlines put Americans under the shadow of war.That cloud passed directly over Bainbridge Island on Tuesday, as fear of terrorism took the ferry Wenatchee out of action for four hours during an exhaustive search for explosives.Law enforcement officials were called after the vessel made its 8:40 a.m. departure from Seattle.Crew members - who are under strict instruction to report anything out of the ordinary - reported hearing an inexplicable metal on metal sound below the engineering decks, with the noise thought to be coming from outside the hull, Washington State Ferries spokesperson Susan Harris-Huether said.The crew heard the sound just before the vessel left Colman Dock, but didn't connect it with a possible threat until they were under way, Harris-Huether said.They just heard it the one time, like someone had attached an incendiary device or something, she said. That was their concern.The vessel was piloted to Bainbridge Island and unloaded; state troopers cordoned off the ferry ramp, and a bomb-sniffing dog was summoned for a search of the vessel.For those in the ferry holding area, a terminal employee announced the cancellation of the next run, blandly attributing the delay to police activity. Ferry traffic filled the lot and backed up onto the highway, as those waiting left their cars to read books, call loved ones and business associates, smoke cigarettes and discuss the national events of the past week.The scene was calm and free of complaint. But inevitably, with a cadre of police at work down the ramp, talk turned to speculation. I think we may get to the point that we have metal detectors and car searches to board the ferries, one rider said.With the Wenatchee out of action, the ferry Tacoma came and went, relieving some of the backup. Then shortly after 11 a.m., escorted by three Washington State Patrol vehicles, a Navy dive team from Bangor roared in with a Zodiac inflatable boat in tow. The boat was taken to the Waterfront Park ramp, from which the team set out and motored alongside the Wenatchee.An hour-long underwater inspection of the ferry's hull revealed nothing, and the vessel was cleared to go back into service for the 1:15 p.m. run. A similar search in the water off Colman dock proved fruitless, and the cause of the noise heard by the ferry crew remains undetermined.Harris-Huether said that WSF is working under an array of unspecified security measures, at the direction of federal officials.Safety of our passengers is our priority, she said. We're doing the best we can.In fact, security remains heightened around the Puget Sound area. Access restrictions have been eased at Kitsap County naval installations this week, but workers were advised to expect delays and have identification cards ready to present to gate security. Tougher domestic security measures also trickled down to local law enforcement agencies.The Bainbridge Police boat was pressed into service in Elliott Bay Monday, escorting a cruise ship that was setting out from the Seattle waterfront. The escort was provided at the request of the Coast Guard, Bainbridge Police Chief Bill Cooper said.Cooper said other impacts on the department had been minimal, although a reserve officer was to be provided for a public observance planned by a local Jewish congregation Monday evening.Cooper said he didn't consider Bainbridge Island likely site of violence. But he noted that island sits in the midst of a number of potential targets, including the military yards and bases at Bremerton, Bangor, Whidbey and Everett, and industrial complexes like Boeing and Microsoft.Monday, watching as the Wenatchee was searched, Bainbridge Island resident Rosemary Tracy likened the uncertainty of the times to her own diagnosis with cancer 11 years ago.It took several months to come to grips with never knowing when it was going to strike, where it was going to strike, or if it was going to strike me again, Tracy said. It's an unknown, and all the technology in the world can't stop it.Tracy, whose son plays on the Bainbridge High School varsity football team, said students she knew had been profoundly shaken by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C., in which hijacked planes were used to bring down the World Trade Center, damage the Pentagon, and claim an estimated 5,000 American lives.Being around students who could be pressed into military service caused Tracy to revisit her own fears, she said, and players and parents alike were grateful for the distraction provided by last Friday's football game.Tracy recalled that her own final year in high school - 1963 - was scarred by Cold War tensions and duck and cover drills in the schools.I remember what it took away from my senior year, she said.