Steamship Authority settles with Senesco

Squabble over MV Katama contract ends with decision to send vessel to another shipyard.

The Katama is headed to Connecticut for repairs. - Rich Saltzberg

In back-to-back unanimous votes, the Steamship Authority board buried the hatchet with Senesco Marine over contract work for the MV Katama. The board awarded the Rhode Island shipyard an $895,791 contract in January that involved the vessel undergoing a “Coast Guard hull exam, machinery inspections, underwater hull cleaning and painting, hull plating replacements and inserts, steering replacement, and bow thruster maintenance.”

However, as the novel coronavirus pandemic gutted SSA finances, the ferry line reached out to Senesco to try to change the parameters of the contract. The contract was slated to be fulfilled this month. Mark Amunsden, SSA director of marine operations, told the board in April he’d reached out to Senesco, and had not heard anything from the shipyard. In subsequent meetings, the board went into executive session to discuss potential litigation with Senesco. In May the Martha’s Vineyard Times revealed former SSA maintenance and engineering director Carl Walker was Senesco’s repair yard superintendent, which held potential procurement and ethics pitfalls for the Katama contract. Senesco did not perceive any such pitfalls. Moreover, in a statement to The Times, Senesco expressed “surprise and dismay” the SSA was contemplating litigation. The shipyard stated it was appreciative of the money woes brought on by the pandemic, but that it couldn’t lightly cast the contract aside.

“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,” the shipyard stated. “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.”

Following an executive session that the board entered at the very start of their meeting Tuesday, the board agreed to authorize staff recommendations on a settlement agreement with Senesco. The SSA declined to release the agreement immediately after the meeting, citing the lack of signatures from both parties as justification. Later Tuesday evening, however, the SSA released a signed copy. The agreement calls for a $142,243 payment to Senesco in reimbursement for materials they bought and stockpiled in preparation for work on the Katama. 

The board also agreed to the conveyance of “purchased materials, parts, and equipment” from Senesco to Thames Shipyard in Connecticut, and for Thames, the underbidder on the contract back in January, to take over the job. Because the SSA has or will have purchased the materials Senesco ordered for the Katama, staffers plan to work with Thames on lowering the contract price to reflect the lower overhead. 

“I’m really delighted with the resolve that has come of this, and the people involved on both sides of the fence obviously know the right actions to take and took [them],” Barnstable board member Robert Jones said. “So I think we’re all better for it, and I would look forward to dealing with Senesco again if the time came.”

“Given the discussions we had prior, I think this is a very good resolution to this situation,” chair Jim Malkin said.