Updated May 19
Carl Walker, former Steamship Authority director of maintenance and engineering, now works at Senesco Marine, according to his online résumé. The title of “repair yard marine superintendent” for Senesco Marine LLC is at the top of Walker’s résumé on LinkedIn. February is listed as the start of his employment for the shipyard.
Walker departed his position at the SSA in early January. It’s unclear whether he resigned or was fired. At the time, former SSA board chair Marc Hanover said Walker’s position was eliminated in adherence to recommendations made in the HMS report.
“One of the recommendations in the HMS report was a realignment of the chain of command …” Hanover wrote at the time, concerning Walker’s departure. “This was the result of that work.”
Walker wrangled with Senesco Marine following the return of the MV Martha’s Vineyard from an $18 million midlife refurbishment in 2018. The ferry was beset with glitches, and twice suffered blackouts while underway following the refurbishment — one in Vineyard Haven outer harbor on St. Patrick’s Day 2018, and another in Woods Hole’s Great Harbor on May 5, 2018. Yet another blackout occurred in Woods Hole in December. The ferry’s problems contributed to the SSA board’s decision to bring in an independent consultant for a top-to-bottom review of the ferry service.
Walker’s departure from the SSA and hiring at Senesco came around the time MV Katama suffered a steering malfunction that left passengers stuck aboard in Vineyard Sound for hours.
While Walker was ostensibly still working for the SSA, the vessel suffered its steering problem. In the midst of the ferry line trying and failing to get the vessel back in service in accord with a schedule it set for itself, Walker exited the job.
He is now poised to oversee work on that ferry, if it ever makes it to Senesco.
On May 15, Senesco Marine issued a statement expressing “surprise and dismay” the SSA board was scheduled to meet in an executive session to discuss possible litigation over scheduled work on the Katama.
“We finalized the contract on Feb. 10 to perform dry-dock repairs to the Steamship Authority’s MV Katama, a freight ferryboat owned and operated by the Authority,” Senesco stated. “As with all our contract work, Senesco project managers began purchasing and paying for the required parts and materials, allocating necessary resources, arranging for dry-dock time, and scheduling our personnel to carry out and complete the repairs on time and on budget, in keeping with the contract.”
Senesco went on to state the SSA has indicated it wants to postpone dry-dock work on the vessel.
“Six weeks after awarding the contract to Senesco, the Authority asked that we delay the project — or that we do the work with payments deferred for up to a year. Further, the Authority has not yet issued any of the progress payments, specified in the Authority’s own contract language, to cover the costs we have already incurred to perform the repairs. Senesco is simply not in a position to cover those costs. When we commit to contract work, we allocate our workforce and necessary resources, and, frankly, turn down other opportunities. Simply put, we want to do the work the Authority hired us to do following the contract as they wrote it.”
Senesco beat out Connecticut’s Thames Shipyard with a bid of $895,791. Thames lost by $12,353. As The Times previously reported, despite the imbroglio with Senesco over the Martha’s Vineyard, Davis said no changes were made to the contract. The contract used for the Martha’s Vineyard and the contract used for the Katama were the same.
“It’s a standard contract,” Davis said in January.
The SSA requested Senesco honor $688,407.97 in total warranty claims over the Martha’s Vineyard. In mediation, the two maritime entities settled for $950,000 — a sum paid by the SSA to Senesco.
“That represented a $367,000 reduction in what Senesco claimed we owed them to satisfy the contract,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll emailed Monday.
At the April 21 SSA board meeting, SSA director of marine operations Mark Amundsen, who assumed Walker’s duties, said the ferry line was in the process of negotiating with the U.S. Coast Guard for an extension on the dry-dock work slated for the MV Katama, which included a Coast Guard hull examination. Amundsen also said at the time that he reached out to Senesco Marine on April 13 to seek “alternate payment terms of up to one year” on the dry-dock contract. He added, “We’ve not heard a response to date.”
That request came as the SSA was generating dismal ridership numbers for April. SSA general manager Robert Davis went on to say in early May a $60 million loss was forecast without a boost in ridership or an infusion of capital.
“We fully understand that economic uncertainties triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic are hurting organizations,” Senesco went on to state. “On April 22, we responded to the Authority’s request, and, although we would prefer to perform the contract, we offered the Authority alternatives we believe are fair and reasonable for terminating or suspending the contract. We did not receive a response. So, on April 30, we presented these alternatives once again. And again, we received no response.”
At the conclusion of the regular board meeting on May 12, SSA chair Jim Malkin announced the board would enter executive session to discuss possible litigation with Senesco. Potential litigation with Senesco was also announced by Malkin before heading into executive session on May 19. Neither the board nor management mentioned Senesco or the Katama during the public portion of the meeting.
“We do not know what the Authority discussed regarding potential litigation in its executive session on May 12,” Senesco went on to state. “But listing even the possibility of litigation against Senesco on its meeting agenda is an affront to our good reputation — one we have all worked very hard to build over the past 21 years. That is why we want to state the facts on this issue. Senesco Marine is the premier shipyard for new construction and vessel repair in the Northeast. We are an essential part of the marine transportation system, and have remained operational through the COVID pandemic. We are proud to employ more than 250 people, and intend to keep our people on the payroll and paid throughout this public health crisis without government help. We are ready to perform our obligations under the contract. Complying with the Authority’s requests to change or delay the contract would hurt us in a significant and unacceptable way.”
Asked if the SSA has a response to Senesco’s statement, Driscoll sent a brief email suggesting a complete picture hasn’t been disclosed.
“As the matter involves potential litigation,” he wrote, “the Authority cannot offer any specific comment. However, it is the Steamship Authority’s position that Senesco’s statement does not fully detail all the facts at issue in this matter. We look forward to discussing those issues with Senesco in an appropriate forum as we work to reach a resolution.”
Neither Walker nor Senesco could be immediately reached for comment.
Asked by The Times if Senesco would confirm Walker’s employment, and if the company would speak to any potential conflicts of interest that might be at play with Walker, Howard Fencl, a spokesman for Senesco, said he would confer with Senesco general manager Mike Foster.
Foster subsequently confirmed that Carl Walker is an employee of Senesco.
“We are not aware of any procurement or ethics violation,” Foster wrote. He added, “We are waiting to hear from the Authority.”
Updated to add a comment from Senesco. –Ed.