SSA addresses recent mechanical failures

Recent mechanical failures caused by extreme cold waylaid ferries. — MV Times

New details have emerged on why a number of Steamship Authority vessels experienced mechanical failures this weekend due to the subzero temperatures, forcing the SSA to cancel a number of trips.

Steamship Director of Marine Operations Mark Amundsen updated Port Council members Tuesday on what happened with the ferries during what he called “unprecedented temperatures.” He said that each vessel was affected by the cold weather differently. 

Existing heating systems on some of the vessels are “inadequate” during such a significant drop in temperature, Amundsen said. 

The MV Katama experienced condensation throughout its pneumatic system, which froze the lines from the bridge to the engine room, and blocked flow.

Those lines were eventually cleared by SSA maintenance staff, but trips were canceled as the SSA waited for the U.S. Coast Guard to check engine operation and to conduct a sea trial for safety. 

Amundsen said they made changes to the heating system on the MV Martha’s Vineyard in 2018, but they “had never been tested in the environment they were tested in this past weekend.” Insulated interior pipes were “frozen solid,” he said. 

The Martha’s Vineyard was able to eventually get underway after installing temporary port-a-potties, since the USCG requires that vessels have sanitary systems for passengers. 

Additionally, an insulated potable water line burst on the MV Nantucket, canceling more routes. 

“We apologize to our traveling public,” Amundsen said. “However, we’ve never seen these types of temperatures.”

“The vessels are designed to operate in cold weather,” he said. “[But] this was an extreme cold weather situation … Overall, we did the best we could to re-establish the service.” 

Port Council member Joe Sollitto briefly inquired whether temporary heating elements could have been used prior to the freeze, considering the warnings in the forecast.

Amundsen said the mechanical issues began two days before the cancellations — as the cold weather conditions began — but it was impossible to identify the damage at that time.

“This is not different from all of our houses,” he said. “You don’t know you have a freeze-up until you start defrosting.” 

Amundsen said that the extent of the damage was apparent only after the temperature began to rise on Sunday.