Ava Pearl had previous engine failures

Ferry crippled off Oak Bluffs last May lost engines twice in 2017.

The Ava Pearl shown heading out of Oak Bluffs Harbor last summer. In 2018 the vessel suffered a complete power loss off East Chop. In 2017, it suffered two starboard engine failures in Oak Bluffs waters. – Rich Saltzberg

Last May the fast ferry Ava Pearl lost power off East Chop and was towed into Vineyard Haven.  A U.S. Coast investigation of the incident remains open. Rhode Island Fast Ferry president Charles Donadio Jr. attributed the loss of power to “a portable heater” that flew from a window into side by side emergency stop buttons. Two Coast Guard investigation reports secured by The Times through Freedom of Information Act requests show the Ava Pearl suffered two other power failures in Oak Bluffs waters a year earlier.

On August 5, 2017 at approximately 3:40 pm the Ava Pearl lost power to its starboard engine while passing between the Oak Bluffs jetties, causing the vessel to strike the left-side jetty. The incident resulted in a 3-foot scratch on the hull below the waterline. The Coast Guard’s report on the incident cites the captain’s lack of understanding about how the engine would perform under particular conditions as a primary reason for the power loss.

“The Master of the vessel was experienced with the vessel and maneuvering a twin screw vessel,” the report on that incident states. “However, the Master was unaware that placing the starboard engine in clutch astern and increasing the RPMs on the port engine could cause the starboard engine to drop below 300 RPMs and initiate an automatic shutdown. Additionally, the Master was unaware that the safety set point was programmed to 300 RPMs. Had the Master been aware of these operating parameters, he could have altered his maneuvering strategy and this incident may not have occurred.”

The captain’s name is redacted from the August, 2017 incident report, which does not indicate if the captain or the ferry service were subject to any fines or charges.

On July 9, 2017, a little before 11 am, the Ava Pearl was on approach to Oak Bluffs Harbor when a similar incident occurred — the starboard engine shutdown. The captain was able to restart the engine. However instead of finishing the journey, the captain opted to turn around and return to the vessel’s homeport of Quonset Point, Rhode Island. A report on that incident found the captain’s actions contributed to the shutdown.

“The starboard main engine shutdown occurred as the master placed the starboard main engine at clutch astern while the port main engine was ahead,” the report on the incident states. “This caused a momentary fluctuation in the starboard engines RPM level because of propeller wash resistance across the starboard propeller, causing it to drop below 300 RPM and automatically shutdown.”

There is no indication in the report that the captain or the ferry line were penalized for the power loss; the captain’s name was also redacted from this report.  

Reached by telephone Wednesday morning, Charles Donadio Jr., president Rhode Island Fast Ferry, which owns the Ava Pearl, declined to comment on the incidents.