Don’t meddle in ferry decisions

To the Editor:

Since reading about the 174 Steamship Authority trips in October* that were canceled (many, if not all, due to bad weather) and the various comments, it has become evident that Islanders and seasonal passengers, along with the Steamship Authority board, must be reminded that a Coast Guard–licensed captain is a person with various credentials and a lot of experience in handling all kinds of vessels safely in all kinds of weather. They are tested and licensed by the Coast Guard as safe and skilled mariners whose responsibility and job is to operate a vessel according to long-established principles of prudent seamanship. Suggesting that anything less be encouraged or even acceptable should be roundly condemned, rather than ever considered by the board and/or SSA management.

The captain must have the final say. It is what the Coast Guard licenses them to have. As well, all Islanders and seasonal riders must understand that in addition to their lives (and property) being at risk, a skipper’s license, livelihood, and reputation are always on the line, no matter what. As well, any infractions of Coast Guard and federal statutes may incur substantial fines as well as civil and criminal liability for the skipper and for the employer. If they make a really bad call, or pull off a bonehead decision or a Costa Concordia maneuver, for instance, they are squarely at fault, and their license is at risk, along with their life and the lives of their crew and passengers.

The SSA board must not meddle in such decisions. Nor should they recommend the vessels that are in the fleet. Witness the high, slab-sided vessels currently in use, which are so difficult to dock in high winds. We need a fleet of vessels (not captains) which can safely operate in more challenging weather, particularly as climate change brings more storms.

Virginia Crowell Jones
West Tisbury

* I would bet that considering the weather in November, we’ll have a lot of canceled trips this month as well.