Another crack found in the Katama

Spare engines, new buses approved, and report requested on new legislation.

The MV Katama was sidelined briefly on Monday. -MV Times

Updated Feb. 16

The Steamship Authority board learned on Tuesday that the freight ferry Katama was forced to go into what was described as “emergency drydocking” due to a hull crack. The vessel also suffered a hull crack last winter, however, SSA director of marine operations Mark Amundsen said the only real similarity between the two failures is that they appear to stem from the age of the vessel, which is 40 years.

Amundsen said when a loss of “jacket water” was discovered in one of the Katama’s generators, the ferry was sidelined and taken to the SSA Fairhaven facility for examination. Following a dye test a problem associated with a channel cooler was found — a crack near a watertight bulkhead. Amundsen emphasized it was coolant that was leaking.  

“The actual crack was not exterior to the vessel,” he said. He added there was no danger of the crack “propagating.”

Amundsen said the U.S. Coast Guard was informed that the Katama was taken to Thames Shipyard in Connecticut for emergency work. That work has been done, he said, and the ferry is expected to leave drydock Feb. 16. 

The crack was discovered Jan. 27, according to SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll.

The SSA dealt with a crack in the Katama last year as well. On Jan. 27, 2021, water was discovered in the engine room of the ferry and soon led to the discovery of small fissure seeping seawater. It was temporarily sealed with epoxy and later fixed at Thames Shipyard. 

When asked by The Times if there was a connection between the two cracks, Amundsen said the previous one was “located further aft” and was “associated with wastage in the shell plating which allowed it to flex and to crack. So the two are different, however they do have to do with the 40 year old age of the vessel.”

The Katama, and conversation about the purchase of an $848,510 spare engine for the Iyanough and a $500,430 spare engine for the Woods Hole, ultimately led to discussions about the prognosis and green convertibility of the ferry fleet. 

Davis pointed out at various points in the meeting that both a report based on a useful life survey of the fleet and a report on alternative propulsion systems (hybrid, electric) were anticipated in the coming months. Amundsen said he began his own evaluation of the vessels as soon as he took his job at the ferry line. 

“When I took over engineering and maintenance two years ago, I began what is called an enhanced audio-gauging survey where we take many thousands of gauging points to develop corrosion patterns.”  

That audio-gauging survey helped develop what Amundsen described as “pecking order of where we need to go” regarding maintenance. However he did not elaborate on what that pecking order was. 

Falmouth board member Peter Jeffrey asked what were “the boats within the fleet that we’d look most likely to repower or replace?’

Davis said the Woods Hole is being looked at as one of the most likely candidates for a propulsion upgrade.

“But there are a number of concerns in terms of battery storage and how that would impact the draft of the vessel or any of our vessels — the weight of the batteries.”

Davis said the Woods Whole spends more than half the year going between Nantucket and Hyannis. If it were converted into an electric vessel, he said, the batteries would alter the draft of the ferry and likely make it unsuitable for the 10 foot six inch maximum in Hyannis harbor. While a totally electric conversion may not be possible, he said, “there may be some sort of limited hybrid capabilities.”

He also said the Island Home is a candidate for a propulsion upgrade — it being the other ferry with the fewest number of years in service. 

“From what little I know about conversions, I think probably the purchase of a whole new vessel designed around, you know, the hybrid engine would be more economically feasible than trying to convert what we have,” Hyannis board member Robert Jones said. “I don’t know that for sure but there’s a lot of technology that is not ready yet in my opinion and it would be years before I think we’ll be seeing any type of electric propulsion on our vessels. Not as though we don’t want it. We can’t afford it. The conversions they’re doing out there in Washington State are ungodly expensive. Their actual benefit is only about 50 percent of the carbon footprint because they’re hybrids. They use both. It’s a big issue.”

The Times wasn’t able to immediately corroborate Jones’ assertions about the Washington State Ferries conversion efficiency.

Jeffrey asked if buying spare engines for the Iyanough or the Woods Hole might impact when the SSA converts to hybrids or electric. 

Davis said upgrading the Iyanough to a greener engine would likely involve a “pretty substantial overhaul of the hull form.” Furthermore it would likely reduce the vessel’s engines from four to two in order to make room for the necessary machinery and equipment.

Amundsen said the Woods Hole spare engine would be a timesaver. 

“If we were ever to have a casualty we could be replacing the engine in a matter of weeks versus being out of service, you know somewhere [between] three to six months. I think there’s some great value in having that replacement engine.”

Jones said he thought squirreling away spare engines for the two ferries was a shrewd idea.

The board voted unanimously to approve the spare engines. 

The spare engines were part of a $7.8 million capital budget for 2022 that the board unanimously approved in a separate vote. 

In response to a legislation proposal that calls for establishing a chief operating officer (COO) position and for creating term limits for SSA board members, chair Moira Tierney, New Bedford’s representative, requested a staff report be prepared for the March board meeting. Inspired by the HMS report, the legislation was recently announced by state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes D-Falmouth. Tierney requested former SSA general counsel Steve Sayers oversee the creation of the report. General manager Robert Davis said he would direct staff to generate the report. Nantucket board member Robert Ranney suggested the Port Council also weigh in on the report. Tierney said that was an “excellent suggestion.” Jeffrey asked that the report estimate the costs associated with the legislation. Davis said that could be included. Vineyard board member Jim Malkin said the board previously came out against creating a COO position. Tierney said it was worth a second look.
She put the kibosh on further deliberation about the legislation until the board received the report. 

Buses, SQMS, Island Home 

The board voted unanimously to approve purchasing four new Gillig electric buses and associated charging infrastructure for $4 million. When asked by Jones what the longevity of the buses was, treasurer Mark Rozum said approximately 12 years. Jones asked if the bus batteries could be replaced at the end of their operational lives. Rozum said they could.

Davis told the board three manuals created for the SSA’s Safety and Quality Management System (SQMS) have been finished. SQMS is a fusion safety and quality management systems — process-based management methods the HMS report found were in dire need at the ferry line. Davis described the new SQMS tools as a support operations manual, a vessel operations manual, and a terminal and facilities operations manual. Davis also said staff was working with the ferry line’s SQMS consultant, SMS, LLC, to facilitate an internal audit and management review ahead of a certification process. Amundesn said the certification process involves a third party auditor approving the manuals, surveying the SSA fleet and SSA personnel, letting the ferry line operate for a period of time using the new manuals and then checking to see if they are operating in accordance to the manuals. Going forward, Amundsen said the manuals will be subject to annual audits and can evolve based on findings and recommendations. 

Amundsen reported savings were in store on a $1.4 million overhaul of the Island Home at Senesco Marine in Rhode Island. While the overhaul incurred $33,390 in change orders, the total project credits came to $281,662. Among other things, Amundsen attributed the savings to steel replacement that was budgeted but didn’t need to be done. 

Lastly, Amundsen said the Martha’s Vineyard will be sidelined to fix its aft vehicle door following damage caused by a tall truck. The work will entail replacing stainless steel slats.

Updated to include more details from Tuesday’s meeting -Ed.


  1. Well look at that– they are finally starting to talk about converting to electric motors.
    One thing for sure, electric motors won’t ever leak “coolant” whatever that is. But I doubt it is good for marine life.
    But I am fascinated by the conversation about getting spare engines for 2 vessels, at a cost of about $1.4 million. — at least that’s what they think the cost will be.
    So let me project down the road a few decades, and suggest that the steamship purchase ferries that have similar engines or motors or whatever propulsion system they come up with.
    A modular system if you will . That way they can have ONE extra on hand that can go into any ship in case of complete engine failure. Is that too complicated to figure out ?
    But I, of course am happy they are at least talking about eventual electrification.
    Perhaps now just might be the time to think about the infrastructure associated with that conversion before the Woods Hole terminal in complete.

    • Don, just like the electric motors in most cars boats electric motors in boats will have to be cooled. I squared R losses. When you move electric power it creates heat.
      Electric boats that use hydrocarbon generated electricity consume more hydrocarbons than hydrocarbon powered boats. Conversion from hydrocarbon to electricity to mechanical motion comes at a cost. Will the boats consume less hydrocarbons when they convert hydrocarbons directly to mechanical motion?
      In time all serious boats will be powered by electricity.
      In time.

      • Albert– of course there is a loss anytime you convert any form of energy to another. Joule’s first law..
        However there are other factors such as the efficiencies of scale ( to keep it simple) . In the case of the generation of electricity, even with the losses associated with transmission , the amount of unburned hydrocarbons is significantly lower than the limitations of the internal combustion engine.
        An electric motor converts between 80 and 95 % of the potential power consumed to mechanical energy. There is as you say a loss in the form of heat (mostly), That is dictated by the laws of thermodynamics.
        The internal combustion engine on the other hand only converts about 60 % of the potential energy into kinetic energy– You can smell the unburned hydrocarbons when you are on an outside deck, and because the internal combustion engine is actually internally on fire, it generates excessive amounts of potentially wasted heat. In the case of the ferry, since it is burning diesel fuel, we are breathing a know carcinogen.
        It seems your premise here is that due to the conversion of a fossil fuel (like lng) to electricity that has to travel considerable distances and then be converted into mechanical energy to turn a propellor is less efficient from a hydrocarbon point of view. Especially when you take into consideration everything that goes into producing the batteries. That process has a serious carbon footprint, and in some cases horrific environmental impacts , as well as disruptions to local communities and cultures.
        Of course, we have heard from the residents of Woods Hole about trucks disrupting the tranquility of early morning — some of them are delivering diesel for the ferry.
        I don’t have reliable numbers to back up any argument I may have here, but I think your premise in incorrect.
        I mean that in no condescending or critical way.
        I totally respect your thoughtful point of view.
        I will do some research, and try to quantify the benefit vs cost ratio.
        I sincerely embrace a thoughtful exchange of information.
        I was pretty discourage a year or 2 ago when I had to convince some people here that electric ferries actually existed.
        It’s hard to pin down how many electric ferries there at this moment but it’s apparent that this technology is fully vetted.

  2. Already have available tow vessels, dry dock, gantry crane. There must also be sufficient access through the superstructure for the engine swap.

    Side note: Additional doodads required because of differing shaft diameters.

  3. Another job for Phil Swift and the family of ‘flex seal’ products! Watch as the SSA uses a screen door to fix splitting hull plates! Wow, if they order now ‘flex seal’ will double their order and include at no extra charge, instructions on how to create evacuation slides using their fine products! The ingredients may include pfas, which could result in choking herring, angry great white sharks, terrified seals and the actual sinking of ships.

  4. How about car charging stations installed on the boats? Hit the mainland or the island fully charged.
    I’m sure there must be a grant to install them and the SSA could charge[$] for use.

    • That is really really smart.
      Put a really big heavy battery and inverters on the boat just to charge car batteries.
      How must will that cost to install?
      How much room will that that?

      • Albert– I agree with you on this one charging cars while on the ferry is not an option.
        But it did get me thinking about electric cars. Perhaps we could go the other way… As they proliferate, the steamship could buy excess capacity power off of cars as they cross.
        Think about it— Lets say you have a fully charged Tesla when you get on the boat to go off island for the day. You are only going to Sandwich So you use about 50 miles worth of power on a battery pack that has a range of over 300. The steamship could buy say 200 miles worth of power off of you, while you cross coming home. When you get back home, charge the car back up on off peak times. Of course, all voluntary. When a large portion of vehicles are electric, some car owners would opt for that. It would eventually become a reliable source of power.
        Future ferries with the infrastructure to take advantage of that excess battery storage could cut down on the size of the battery they need.

  5. Ryan– fabulous link– thank you. I forwarded it to the SSA –I hope someone reads it.
    And I hope all the hand wringing nay sayer’s will read it also..

  6. Gerald– good link– And thanks for mentioning the translation with a click– I had never seen that.
    It seems like we have , or are close to having the technologies needed to get us out of the climate crisis. We just have to get past the rhetoric of the vested interests of the oil industries, and the right wing propaganda machines.
    2021 tied with 2016 as the warmest year ever recorded (in modern times). The 7 warmest years were the last 7.. I don’t get how some people can continue to deny anthropomorphic climate change.

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