MV Martha’s Vineyard leaves port for repairs

The MV Martha's Vineyard leaves Vineyard Haven under escort by the New Bedford tugboat Morgan. - Barry Stringfellow

Updated 1:20 pm

Not all the Steamship Authority ferries are canceled today due to weather. The MV Martha’s Vineyard left the SSA Vineyard Haven terminal this morning at 9:30, under a cloud of acrid diesel smoke, with the tugboat Morgan escorting it to the Fairhaven shipyard, according to Conrad Roy Jr., who spoke to The Times as he was piloting the Morgan into choppy Vineyard Sound.

The Morgan is part of the fleet at New Bedford–based Tucker Roy Marine Towing and Salvage.

Roy said the escort was required by the Coast Guard. He said he wasn’t told what repairs are being made in Fairhaven. The journey to Fairhaven is roughly 35 nautical miles, and it will take a little more than three hours to get to the shipyard. Roy said today’s nor’easter was not a concern. “Been in a lot worse,” he told The Times.

Roy piloted the smaller tug, Roy Boys, which came to the aid of the MV Martha’s Vineyard when it lost power and had to anchor in Vineyard Haven outer harbor Saturday night.

Speaking from the New Bedford office, Conrad Roy Sr., said the call came in from the SSA at about 3 this morning.

The ferry had been cleared by the Coast Guard to return to service after an incident on Saturday night when its engines failed, leaving passengers stranded for more than five hours.

The ferry had recently undergone $17.5 million in refurbishments, and at a meeting in Falmouth Tuesday, Steamship officials blamed the breakdown Saturday night on faulty wiring done by the contractor that did the work on the Martha’s Vineyard.

Just after 1 pm, Robert Davis, general manager of the Steamship Authority, issued a statement saying the Martha’s Vineyard was taken out of service after having a subsequent issue with a generator Tuesday night.

“…We have decided to take the vessel out of service at this time for additional work and testing instead of waiting until it is scheduled to be in our Fairhaven maintenance facility this coming May,” Davis said. “The contractor responsible for the M/V Martha’s Vineyard’s recent mid-life refurbishment is on-site working with our engineering team.”

Michael Smith, general manager for Senesco Co. of North Kingstown, R.I., the company responsible for the refurbishment, said he would have no comment until his employees report back to him.

“We do have a representative there and I’m waiting to hear from them,” Smith said.

The Steamship Authority statement goes on to say that the Martha’s Vineyard will be out of service for up to a week.

“In the meantime, the MV Sankaty will run in its place according to the MV Martha’s Vineyard’s published schedule,” according to the statement. “There are limited passenger amenities on the MV Sankaty but we do not anticipate this will affect passenger traffic. Also, because the M/V Sankaty has less space for vehicles, there may be some delays in transporting vehicles between Martha’s Vineyard and Woods Hole. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause. The safe and reliable operation of all Steamship Authority vessels is our highest priority.”

Marc Hanover, the Island’s representative on the Steamship board, said the ferry service may have pushed too hard to get the Martha’s Vineyard back. “I think what’s happened is we rushed the ferry out of there,” he said of Senesco.

The number of issues in recent days is puzzling. “I’ve been on the board 14 years, and this is all something new to me,” he said.

Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling and Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker both told The Times, in separate calls, the Steamship needs to do a better job of letting them know when there’s a crisis.

“We just want to have a discussion with them to [so that they] notify us when there is another issue,” Crocker said.

“These are healthy conversations to have,” Schilling said.

Barry Stringfellow and George Brennan contributed to this report.