Ferry captain was confused by radar at time of crash

Alcohol, drugs ruled out as factor in fast ferry accident near Hyannis.

A still from the Coast Guard rescue of the M/V Iyanough shows the ferry stuck on a jetty. The boat crashed into a jetty on its way back to Hyannis from Nantucket Friday. — Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

High winds, heavy surf, and poor visibility contributed to the captain of the M/V Iyanough mistaking a metal pole and two sailboats for channel markers just before the June 16 crash into a jetty near Hyannis, according to a statement read by Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson at a board of directors meeting on Nantucket Tuesday.

The Steamship Authority released Mr. Lamson’s statement to the board through its public relations firm, Regan Communications.

The U.S. Coast Guard investigation continues into the crash, but tests on the captain and pilot have ruled out alcohol or drug impairment when the vessel got lodged on the rocks during its trip to Hyannis from Nantucket at about 9:30 pm, according to previous statements released by the Steamship Authority.

In Tuesday’s statement before the authority’s board, Mr. Lamson said after the Iyanough passed the “HH” navigation buoy, located about 2,500 yards south of the entrance to the Hyannis Harbor, the “captain asked the pilot to use the vessel’s searchlight to light up Buoy No. 4 for him.”

Despite using the searchlight, the captain could not see the buoy. The captain then returned to the radar and “recognized the familiar pattern of Buoys 4, 5, and 6, and began adjusting the vessel’s course to accommodate its entrance into the main Hyannis channel,” Mr. Lamson said. “The pilot was unable to locate any navigational aids with the searchlight.”

According to Mr. Lamson, what the captain interpreted on radar as Buoy No. 4 was the metal pole at the end of the breakwater — 800 yards north of the buoy and the channel entrance. “At that time, the breakwater itself was not visible on radar because the waves, which were estimated to be 8 feet high at the time, obscured the breakwater’s radar image, while the pole was visible because of its greater height above the waves,” Mr. Lamson said. “In addition, what the captain had interpreted as Buoys 5 and 6 were actually sailboats located on the other side of the jetty. The distances and positions of the pole and the sailboats matched identically to the pattern normally associated with Buoys 4, 5 and 6.”

In adjusting the Iyanough’s course to enter what he believed was the channel, the captain “saw the breakwater in front of the vessel and administered the ‘panic stop’ as trained,” Mr. Lamson said.

The captain and pilot, who reportedly had 60 years of experience between them, were initially allowed to take leave, but within a few days of the crash the Steamship Authority placed them on administrative leave as the investigation continued.

On Friday, Steamship officials reported that drug tests from a U.S. Coast Guard–approved testing facility were released and came up negative. Alcohol tests from the night of the crash were also negative.

The Coast Guard investigation is ongoing into what caused the crash, which injured 15. All of the injured passengers have since been released from the hospital. Five of the injured were airlifted by Coast Guard helicopter, and 10 passengers also had to be hoisted to safety from the boat during the dramatic rescue of the 48 passengers, six crew members, and three food service workers.

Rough seas and heavy winds have been cited as a contributing factor in the crash.

The Iyanough’s fuel tanks remained intact, and there was no environmental leak, Mr. Lamson told the board.

With the Iyanough out of service and under repair in Fairhaven, the Steamship Authority is running a modified schedule to Nantucket using two different Sea Streak vessels to fill the gaps. On Friday, there will be no SSA high-speed service to Nantucket because the Sea Streak vessel is not available.

The Hy-Line is providing extra high-speed service to Nantucket with the Lady Martha, which affects its inter-island service.

Passengers are encouraged to make reservations at 508-495-3278 or visit steamshipauthority.com to check the modified schedules.