UPDATE: Transfer bridge cable snaps in Vineyard Haven

Incident described as ‘near miss’ that could have ‘caused serious injury’.


Updated May 13

A terminal incident over the weekend “could have caused serious injury but did not,” according to Steamship Authority spokesman Sean Driscoll. 

A Slip 2 transfer bridge cable at the Steamship Authority’s Vineyard Haven terminal snapped Saturday morning. The MV Martha’s Vineyard was at the bridge at the time of the incident and became stuck there.  Based on information provided by the SSA, a frozen sheave is suspected of causing the incident, according to Carolyn Assa, spokesperson for the Massachusetts State Building Inspector’s Office. Following the cable break, vehicles and passengers waiting to board the ferry were delayed until the MV Katama, which was docked in reserve at Slip 1, could be brought into service. A Steamship Authority repair crew arrived on scene sometime before noon. Workers rigged a chain and pulley to the transfer bridge and by 12:40 pm, the Martha’s Vineyard was freed. It then motored into Slip 1.

On Monday, the MV Katama was back in reserve, docked at Slip 2, and repair work continued on the transfer bridge. 

“Today maintenance crews are securing the other counterweight on the transfer bridge and examining the four sheaves on the transfer bridge to determine if they need to be repaired or simply reset,” Driscoll emailed at the time. ”New cables will be installed on both sides of the bridge. 

Driscoll clarified that the “sheaves” are the slotted wheels cables run through, such as on pulleys. 

The SSA is already running a reduced schedule and with the Martha’s Vineyard unable to unload, it caused a backup. The freight ferry MV Katama, which was being held in reserve in Slip 1, warmed up its engines to fill in for the Martha’s Vineyard.

At 9:49 am Saturday, Driscoll issued a statement: “This morning, a transfer bridge cable failed at approximately 7:45 am. while the MV Martha’s Vineyard was docked in the southernmost slip in Vineyard Haven. No injuries were reported, but the transfer bridge is currently not operational and the vessel will be unable to leave the slip until the transfer bridge is secured. The crew from the M/V Martha’s Vineyard will run the MV Katama in the interim and should leave Vineyard Haven by 9:30 am. Once the transfer bridge is secured, the MV Martha’s Vineyard will resume service. An extra crew is being assembled to run service with the MV Katama to help alleviate traffic backlogs as a result of this incident. Customers should expect delays this morning as a result. We thank customers for their patience.”

The bridge is designed with a suspended block of counterweights on either side of its ramp.

Driscoll noted the weight that was attached to the broken cable is no longer on the transfer bridge but “in the water and will have to be retrieved by divers.”  

Wednesday morning the SSA had the counterweights hoisted from Vineyard Haven Harbor with a crane. 

Terminal manager Leigh Cormie said the fallen counterweights weighed 20,000 pounds. Asked if the Martha’s Vineyard allided with the transfer bridge, Cormie said it didn’t, that the cable holding the counterweight simply broke. He said he found it perplexing because the cable was relatively new. Driscoll later confirmed a frozen sheave is thought to have caused the break.  

Asked if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the state building inspector’s office were notified of the incident, Driscoll replied, “We are gathering more information on the incident to determine what notifications are necessary.” 

Driscoll later wrote, “The incident is categorized as a “near miss” so is not required to be reported to OSHA. Nonetheless, after we complete our investigation, we will use what was learned as the basis to improve our policies, procedures and training as a part of our implementation of our new Safety Quality Management System.”

“OSHA strongly encourages employers to investigate all incidents in which a worker was hurt, as well as close calls (sometimes called “near misses”), in which a worker might have been hurt if the circumstances had been slightly different,” the administration’s website states. No inspection will occur and no permit will be required to repair the transfer bridge, according to Assa, as the work is considered maintenance. 

In an email Tuesday night, Driscoll noted materials are on order for the transfer bridge and repair work is not expected to be completed until “mid to late next week.”

Updated with new information from the SSA. -ed.



  1. Is it true that the counterweight fell into the water?
    Years ago I was in WH and saw something like this happen. On a summer Sunday! The SSA shop was still in the old ticket office, and it took the guys less than an hour to find a cable clamp or two and make a repair.

  2. It is going to take a lot more than a financial bailout to save the SSA.
    Time to start planning a dissolution of their enabling legislation and receive bids from private business for the remaining assets.

  3. Maybe a transfer of the transfer system in oak Bluffs to VH is in order… or perhaps we just set the entire Ssa staff adrift on what remains of the islander and obtain a competent ferry system.

  4. Well let’s see – not real good with boats, a little shaky on the dock, flubbing the accounting and audit function, and now the busted ramp experience – but still running the parking lot OK, right…right…

    • I wouldn’t say they are even running the parking lot well. They missed opportunities to get grants to build chargers for electric cars and keep buying diesel buses. They also charge too much, which encourages people to bring more cars to the island.

  5. Just think, if it were a week later, and if the dock in Oak Bluffs could support more than a bicycle, they could have diverted sailings from Woods Hole there.

  6. It’s getting to the point where travel on the SS Edmund Fitzgerald or the USS Indianapolis sounds more appealing than getting on a SSA boat.

  7. Country of origin on the “fairly new” cable? If anything like the steel used in the Bay Bridge out in CA then I’m not too surprised.

  8. Of equal importance to “newness” of the cable is the method of attachment. Splicing is known to be the best from a loss of capacity standpoint, but few are able to do it in this day and age. Some methods such as hardware store cable clamps can significantly reduced breaking strength of a connection. Let’s hope the SSA has the “A” team on this.

  9. Does this mean that all other cables and clamps have been repaired as needed?

    BTW, how many senior SSA employees live on either island?

    • First part of your comment, good question.
      Second part, what does where SSA employees live have to do with a busted cabl

  10. “Cormie said it didn’t, that the cable holding the counterweight simply broke. He said he found it perplexing because the cable was relatively new. “
    Do the operators perform inspections of the equipment before putting it into service on each docking, daily, weekly, or monthly, and was this identified? If not programmatic, operator fundamentals should result in the employees identifying deficiencies that could result in equipment failure, and the organization should support them in identifying and resolving the issue. Bridges, cranes, or other lifting devices such as elevators have codified inspection criteria, is that the case with these transfer bridges? If no codified inspection criteria exist, equipment that sees high use and exposed to harsh environmental conditions would require a maintenance program on a set frequency unless it is run-to-failure.
    From my experience, equipment failures that surprise an organization are often a result of more substantial organizational and programmatic omissions. These questions may be rhetorical; however, what we all want to know is what failed at the SSA that allowed this near-miss to occur? I will give you a hint; it wasn’t the cable.

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