Updated at June 5
Two vehicles were doused with hydraulic fluid in the MV Island Home vehicle bay as loading occurred for the noon crossing out of Vineyard Haven on Monday. The leak stemmed from a hydraulic component of a lift deck suspended above the main vehicle deck, Steamship Authority spokesman Sean Driscoll told The Times. Because the ferry was “lightly packed,” SSA personnel were able to reposition the vehicles from under the lift deck and cordon off the area.
SSA personnel swabbed up the deck of fluid and “used absorbent material to clean the bulk of it from their cars,” Driscoll said.
Frank Cray of Oak Bluffs says that’s not true. It was his pickup truck, a 2016 Ford F150 with 20,000 miles on it, that took the brunt of the leak. He said about 20 to 30 gallons of fluid rained down on his vehicle while the window to his cab was open.
“I spent the entire boat ride covered in hydraulic oil cleaning my own truck,” Cray told The Times. “I was mad because it said they cleaned my vehicle. Everything I got, I had to ask for — paper towels, water, soap. I was literally covered in oil … They’re making it sound like a small leak. It was a big deal.”
“I checked, and while our crews did provide some assistance to both individuals affected while also trying to deal with the overall situation, we apologize if Mr. Cray feels our response was inadequate,” Driscoll wrote in a follow-up email. “As I previously said, we made contact with both customers shortly after the incident, and will work with them regarding repairs.”
Cray was headed off-Island to a doctor’s appointment. “I waited three months for this doctor’s appointment,” Cray, who has lung disease, said. “He told me, ‘I can’t see you, you’re covered in oil’.”
The cleanup was done en route to Woods Hole. The vessel wasn’t delayed in that crossing, but the 1:15 pm crossing was about a half an hour late, Driscoll said. At least one subsequent crossing was delayed.
Driscoll described the vehicle operators as “understanding and cooperative,” and said the lift deck was safe prior to the leak, and remains safe.
“We just can’t lower it,” he said.
When initially contacted about the incident, Driscoll said SSA operations manager Mark Rozum reached out to the vehicle drivers and told them to get estimates on what repairs might be needed. Once they have those, “we’ll move forward from there,” he said.
Again, Cray didn’t like that characterization. There was no offer to reimburse for the ferry ride, and he was handed an accident report. He’s concerned about his truck’s paint, and how the fluid will be removed from areas like between the glass and his truck door. “Now I have to get an estimate. I have to do their legwork,” he said.
Cray believes the hydraulic oil was leaking previously. He said there was a bucket hanging underneath the lift. “They just didn’t fix it,” he said.
Driscoll wrote that he is unaware of the bucket. “There have been no problems with the hydraulic system in recent memory,” he wrote.
An investigation uncovered the source of the leak. “Also we have identified the issue as a failure on an o-ring, a round piece of rubber roughly the diameter of a thumb, in the hydraulic system. Repairs are underway this evening,” Driscoll wrote on Monday.
Cray brought his pickup to the Martha’s Vineyard Times in Vineyard Haven Tuesday morning, where he pointed out hydraulic fluid residue in the cab, and a thick petroleum odor.
Cray said the interior of the driver’s side door was soaked in fluid. As evidence for this, he raised the window. The glass held a greasy film that he said replenishes itself every time he wipes it off. He said it took over 10 minutes for SSA employees to move his truck from under the spewing fluid. He plans to have a local garage and an insurance agent examine the vehicle. He also said he threw out the clothes worn at the time because he deemed them ruined.
“I didn’t realize how saturated I was,” he said. He described the fluid as urine-colored and non-plant-based, given its aroma and his experience with heavy machinery. The fluid was Shell Tellus S2 M 32, according to Driscoll.
“The capacity of the system is around 200 gallons,” he emailed.
The product contains mineral oils, a Shell safety data sheet states. The sheet characterizes unused fluid as having low toxicity. However used fluid, which is called an oil, “may contain harmful impurities that have accumulated during use.” The sheet recommends “ALL used oil should be handled with caution and skin contact avoided as far as possible.”
Cray said he was angry at SSA managerial spin, not so much the performance of personnel on the Island Home. He emphasized he cleaned his truck himself both aboard the Island Home and at the Woods Hole terminal, and did so after having to ask for cleaning materials. Any suggestion the SSA made any attempt to clean his truck is false, he said.
Reached Tuesday, Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker said he was not informed of the incident. Falmouth harbormaster Gregg Fraser said it was reported to him by the Steamship Authority. When told a person was coated in hydraulic fluid, Fraser said that information wasn’t reported to his office.
Marc Hanover, the Vineyard’s representative on the SSA board, said Tuesday he was not told somebody was coated in hydraulic fluid. He said he intended to look into the matter, and vowed he would make sure further assistance was extended to Cray.
The Coast Guard does not inspect the lift decks on the Island Home and the SSA isn’t required to report the type of incident that occurred with it, U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Nathan Mendes told The Times. However, Mendes said the Coast Guard is aware of the incident.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Cray said Rozum contacted him again and offered to reimburse the cost of the vehicle passage ticket, and also offered a complimentary ticket so Cray could get his vehicle examined off-Island.
George Brennan contributed to this report. Updated with more details after breaking the story on June 3.