SSA: Warning should have alerted crew to pump failure

System had not been activated on recently refurbished ferry.

Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis, right, addresses recent issues with MV Martha's Vineyard and MV Woods Hole. — George Brennan

The crew of the MV Martha’s Vineyard had no warning that an oil pump was not functioning properly in advance of an engine failure that stranded passengers late Saturday into the early hours of Sunday morning, Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis told a joint meeting of the port council and board of directors Tuesday morning.

A wire to a generator had arced earlier in the day, but with no warning alert activated, its impact on the engine went undetected, he said.

“Unfortunately, the alarm for the new pump to the new control panel never got activated, and the pressure on the pump did not provide sufficient detail to warn the engineer on board of a problem,” he said. An alarm setting has been added to the control panel, and a new pressure gauge has been installed, Davis said.

“By all accounts, the crew responded very well,” he said, updating passengers frequently. “We apologize to our passengers who were onboard that night.”

The Martha’s Vineyard was cleared by the Coast Guard to return to service Monday.

Carl Walker, director of maintenance and engineering, said the engine failure was directly related to the $17.5 million refurbishment of the ferry by Senesco Co. A wire was crimped improperly on a backup generator that was part of the refurbishment, he said.

There were warning systems in place, but they had not been activated, Walker said.

“It started from a smaller problem, but cascaded to a bigger problem from that initial issue,” he said.

Senesco has been responsive, and understands that it’s a warranty-related issue, he said.

A representative of the company was on the board the Martha’s Vineyard on Tuesday with the port engineer, going over a variety of issues, Walker said. There are more than 200 items on a punch list, many of them small, aesthetic-type issues, he said. There are some that may have to be addressed when the ferry is out of service for routine maintenance next December, Walker said.

Marc Hanover, Martha’s Vineyard’s representative on the board, asked if the contractor would be used again in the future.

Walker said Senesco is used on a regular basis, and has worked to resolve issues. “We’ve used Senesco for large jobs, and they’ve always had high-quality work,” he said.

Davis thanked the crew, as well as the tugboat companies that responded and brough the ferry safely back to port.

“I totally agree, the situation was handled flawlessly as far as I’m concerned,” Hanover said. He noted that pillows, sheets, and games were handed out to passengers, particularly children, on the ferry. On the shore, cabs were made available to bring passengers to rooms rented by the SSA. “It was exemplary of how we should treat our customers.”

Tuesday’s meeting was held in the Steamship Authority’s new administrative office on Palmer Avenue in Falmouth. A building plaque was unveiled during a brief intermission of the meeting.

It was the first time the two boards met together, and was forced in large part by recent weather, Rob Ranney, board chairman and Nantucket’s representative, said.

“On behalf of all employees who are now working in other parts of this building, I can say that while we miss our water views, the boat whistles, and the seagulls, we had no idea what a triumph our new offices would be,” Davis said.

The $12.7 million building is built in the footprint of a former Grossman’s barn adjacent to the SSA parking lot on Palmer Avenue. On Tuesday, a contractor cleaned up the final pieces of the former Woods Hole terminal building that’s been demolished to make way for a new one.

In other business Tuesday, the two boards:

  • Approved a new “Lifeline” card. The cards will replace the ones that individuals have now, and will be sold in five-ticket increments, instead of 10. The major difference is the cards will no longer be transferable, so individual family members will have to have separate cards, Davis said. The cards can be loaded at ticket windows or online, he said. The five ferry rides will only be good for one year from the date of purchase. Ranney asked about the odd number of tickets, pointing out that it’s only 2½ round trips, but he had no backup for his concern.
  • Approved the hiring of a communications director for the Steamship Authority. The new position will be responsible for marketing, advertising, fielding media calls, and taking the minutes at SSA meetings, Davis said.
  • Approved a nearly $900,000 contract for work on the MV Katama. The drydock overhaul will be done by Thames Shipyard in New London, Conn.
  • Approved a contract with Terence Kenneally as the new general counsel for the SSA. He will take over for Steven Sayers, who intends to retire at the end of July.