Ferry runs aground, bounces in and out of service

Harbormaster wasn’t notified of MV Woods Hole mishap in Vineyard Haven.

The MV Woods Hole ferry ran aground in sand while docking in Vineyard Haven. — Arletta Charter

Updated March 20 at 3:55 pm

The Steamship Authority canceled all ferry trips of the MV Woods Hole after 10:45 am on Friday, citing “mechanical issues,” a day after it ran aground in Vineyard Haven Harbor and was taken out of service for most of the day.

Robert Davis, the SSA general manager, issued a statement saying the captain and the pilot noticed a problem with the onboard operating system before departing Woods Hole at 10:45 am. With no passengers or vehicles on the vessel, it was decided to cancel the trip, according to the statement.

Steamship Authority maintenance staff determined that additional support was required from the equipment vendor. The manufacturer of the onboard electronic equipment is sending a technician to run diagnostics tests,” according to the statement from Davis. “We do not yet know if the problem is related to what may have led to yesterday’s grounding. We expect the MV Woods Hole to be out of service at least until tomorrow. It will not return to service until the problem is fixed and the Coast Guard clears the vessel to return to service.”

The MV Sankaty was used in place of the Woods Hole. “We realize the MV Sankaty has limited vehicle and passenger capacity, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” Davis said.

The Woods Hole returned to service on Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, a preliminary Coast Guard investigation of Thursday’s grounding indicates a failure in the transfer of propulsion controls to the bridge wing as the vessel approached the docks, though the exact cause is under investigation, Carl Moberg, assistant chief of inspection for the Coast Guard out of Providence, told The Times.

The Woods Hole turns around as it docks in Vineyard Haven.

At a joint meeting Tuesday in Falmouth of the Steamship Authority board of directors and the port council, Davis said the issue Friday involved the onboard operating system. He called it an “anomaly” with the transfer of controls. Despite performing without incident in sea trials, the Coast Guard is only allowing the vessel to operate so long as the transfer isn’t used and all operations are done through the bridge’s center console, Davis said. A part has been removed and returned to the vendor for testing, he said.

The exact speed the ferry was traveling is unknown, though it was reported as “slow,” Moberg said.

A Times employee waiting for the 9:30 am boat leaving Vineyard Haven watched as the Woods Hole appeared to get stuck in front of the Black Dog for about 10 minutes. When it was finally freed, SSA employees at the dock told him the vessel now had mechanical issues that would have to be checked out by the Coast Guard.

Vehicles were loaded onto the Woods Hole, but no passengers were allowed to stay on the boat as it left Vineyard Haven. Drivers followed their vehicles on a subsequent ferry.

Davis issued the following statement on Thursday: “At approximately 9 am today, our vessel the MV Woods Hole ran aground in shallow water as it approached the slip in Vineyard Haven. The MV Woods Hole was able to back off the soft bottom and berth safely following the incident. There were 146 passengers aboard, but no reported injuries at this time. While the cause of the momentary grounding has not yet been determined, both the Captain and the Pilot have decades of experience.”

In his initial statement, Davis said the ferry was cleared by the Coast Guard to return to Woods Hole without any passengers.

Later in the day, Davis said, “After an inspection, the Coast Guard cleared the MV Woods Hole to resume service.”

It made its 3:45 pm trip from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard, according to the statement, and resumed full service.

Coast Guard inspectors, Lt. Gregory Svencer and chief warrant officer Aaron Van Huysen, from Air Station Cape Cod, inspected the Woods Hole, including the propulsion system, before clearing it to go back into service, Moberg said. A complete investigation could take months, he said.

“The focus of marine casualty investigations are really what actions have been taken to prevent reoccurrence,” Moberg said.

Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker said he was never officially notified of the grounding. Asked if he should be, he said, “That would be nice to know, wouldn’t it?”

As for the cause, Crocker said each time the ferry arrives, it churns up sand and sediment. “I’m told there is a 35-foot hole in front of the slips,” Crocker said. “That material has to go somewhere.” There’s shoaling on either side of the slips, which needs to be addressed through dredging.

In January, Crocker alerted selectmen that Vineyard Haven Harbor is one of the places in town that needs to be addressed. Chairman Larry Gomez asked if the Steamship Authority would fund any of the work, and town administrator Jay Grande suggested a meeting with Davis.

At a selectmen’s meeting Thursday night, selectmen said the issue needs to be addressed quickly.

“I hope we’re asking the Steamship Authority for dredging money,” Selectman Tristan Israel said.

Gomez noted reading about the grounding on The Times website.

Grande said he’s reached out to Davis, but no meeting has been set. He said it’s possible the Coast Guard will insist that the shoaling be dredged to prevent future incidents.

“There’s going to need to be some dredging down there,” Crocker told The Times earlier in the day. “Being a quasi–state agency, it’s probably easier for them to get permits.”