The Steamship Authority continues to resist the Martha’s Vineyard Times in its pursuit of transfer bridge video. The Times sent a public records request for footage that shows a cable breaking at the Vineyard Haven terminal in August. The cable break resulted in a multi-ton set of counterweights falling into Vineyard Haven Harbor. The SSA denied the request based on the belief the footage constitutes sensitive security information as defined under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, and also security and vulnerability information protected under state law.
The Times appealed the SSA’s denial to the state’s supervisor of records. In a September determination, the supervisor of records ordered the SSA to provide a copy of the footage for examination so that office can determine, among other things, if some portion of the footage can be released to The Times. The SSA hasn’t complied with the order.
SSA general counsel Terence Kenneally first told The Times on Sept. 30 and Oct. 3 that the ferry line had asked the U.S. Coast Guard if it was OK to share the video with the supervisor, and planned to inform the supervisor once an answer was provided. Kenneally amended his response on Oct. 13 by saying the Coast Guard turned out to be the wrong agency to consult, and that the SSA hoped to receive guidance from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Kenneally somewhat changed course on Oct. 21, and noted the Coast Guard was still relevant to the issue, because TSA had opted to consult the Coast Guard about the footage. Several cable accidents at SSA transfer bridges have occurred in recent years. In June, a cable broke at the lone transfer bridge at the Oak Bluffs terminal. Another broke at the Slip 2 transfer bridge in Vineyard Haven in January. In November 2021, a cable broke at that same bridge. In May 2020, at the same bridge again, a cable broke and a set of counterweights fell, trapping the ferry Martha’s Vineyard.
The May incident was also subject to a Times footage request and appeal. A subsequent determination gave the SSA the opportunity to either provide The Times with a response or to provide the supervisor with a copy of the video. The SSA opted to provide a voluminous response to The Times in further support of its denial. The Times didn’t further appeal at the time, but may appeal in the future. The denial of the records both in 2020 and this year based on laws meant to guard against terrorism raises questions about whether such laws serve to obfuscate industrial accidents at public nautical facilities. Monday evening the Coast Guard effectively declared itself not part of the process.
“We advised the Steamship Authority today (Oct. 24, 2022) that there is no justification for the U.S. Coast Guard to intervene to prevent the release of footage to the Massachusetts Secretary of State,” Lt. Brandon Newman, Coast Guard spokesman, emailed.
It remains unclear if TSA has such jurisdiction, and what, if anything, it plans to do. TSA didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.