Letters to the Editor
SSA manager rejects criticism of its maintenance
To the Editor:
As general manager of the Steamship Authority, I would like to respond to Michael Jampel's recent Letter to the Editor [March 5, "Islander's condition raises questions about SSA maintenance"] relative to a report on the M/V Islander's current physical condition. In his letter, Mr. Jampel wonders about the condition of the other vessels in the authority's fleet and suggests that the Coast Guard should investigate the issue of Steamship Authority vessel maintenance and safety.
I want to assure Mr. Jampel and the rest of the traveling public that the Coast Guard already inspects the safety and maintenance of the authority's vessels on a regular basis. Pursuant to the certificates of inspection issued by the Coast Guard, each of the authority's vessels is required to be drydocked twice every five years and at least once every three years. On each occasion (as well as at the end of each vessel's annual overhaul period even when no dry-docking is required), a Coast Guard inspector reviews the work that was done and the vessel's condition before allowing the vessel to be used once more to carry any passengers or vehicles. The Steamship Authority also uses a computerized maintenance management system to track scheduled preventive maintenance work orders and other maintenance work that needs to be performed on a regular basis, when each vessel is operating its regularly scheduled service.
The same was true for the M/V Islander. Over the last 10 years of the M/V Islander's service life, the Steamship Authority spent a total of around $5.5 million to maintain the vessel, including the cost of dry-dockings in 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2005. Further, this amount does not include the cost of the crew's labor involved in performing the additional day-to-day preventive maintenance while the vessel was in line service. As a tribute to all of these maintenance efforts, the M/V Islander missed only 12 of her 19,580 scheduled trips due to mechanical reasons during the last five years of her service life, before sailing on her last trip from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole, in March 2007. I do not know how much, if any, maintenance work continued to be performed on the M/V Islander, after it was sold to Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation later that year.
I am also constrained to note that Mr. Jampel is incorrect in saying that the M/V Island Home will have unwanted and ongoing maintenance problems as a result of her hull and engines being submerged during Hurricane Katrina. At the time of the hurricane, the two main engines waiting to be installed in the new vessel were stored on blocks in a warehouse, and the floodwater came up only to the oil pan at the bottom of the engines. For precautionary measures, VT Halter sent both engines back to the supplier where they were opened, inspected and cleaned before being returned to the shipyard. Although two of the vessel's five hull modules (the two end modules) were on the ground during the storm surge, they were later sandblasted down to bare metal and recoated. The other three hull modules were enclosed and on blocks, eight feet above ground level, and were neither submerged nor otherwise damaged. I am confident that the shipyard, as well as our own on-site representatives, did everything appropriate and necessary in response to any damage to the vessel or equipment in the weeks and months following the aftermath of the hurricane. In sum, the Steamship Authority does not have a practice of neglecting maintenance to cut costs. On the contrary, just last year the Steamship Authority spent almost $10 million dollars on maintenance to our vessels and facilities. I hope the traveling public shares the very high level of appreciation that I have for the work that our employees do to keep all of our vessels and facilities in safe operating condition 365 days a year.