As the summer season steadily approaches, the Steamship Authority faces the possibility of altering its schedule due to a shortage of deck officers.
“Late last week, we received word that some of the individuals that we have been counting on being there will not be able to sail with us this summer,” SSA general manager Robert Davis told the authority’s board during a Monday afternoon meeting.
In total, four deck officers will be unable to join the SSA for various reasons, such as health issues, resignation, and family leave.
The ferries that run on the schedule from May 18 to June 16 will be short on a couple of deck officers, according to Davis.
“We’re going to have to make some modifications to the schedule,” Davis said. The current recommendation is to double-crew the Iyannough, which was scheduled to be triple-crewed, alongside an overtime crew for weekends. The Governor will also be double-crewed running from May 30 to June 16, when there is a “crunch” in the schedule.
Davis said the SSA is also looking at ways to fill other gaps. He said the SSA sent some of its staff to a class for pilotage, but they are waiting for word from the U.S. Coast Guard to get these individuals lined up to take their tests. “We’re hoping to expedite that a little bit over the next couple of weeks,” Davis said. It usually takes up to a week for licenses to be issued after a test is successfully completed, according to Davis. He said he heard that it is now taking 30 to 60 days for licenses to be passed out.
SSA director of marine operations Mark Amundsen said the SSA has been working to hire younger, qualified deck officers. He said this is an industrywide issue.
“I think we have done very well as a company to keep our deck officers,” he said. “If you look at places like Washington State Ferries, they had many cancellations, complete cancellations, of trips. But we’re going to be challenged for the next year or two to keep these programs. We have to bring in new talent to get their pilotage and deck officer licensing.”
Davis said he hopes the situation will be more clear by the next board meeting, which is on Tuesday, May 16. Davis said if the schedule sees a “substantial change,” the SSA will post this. For now, Davis said the SSA can modify the schedule as needed, like in 2020, when the schedule was changing on a “weekly basis.”
“This will be a decrease in service,” he said. “We understand the impacts it will have on our customers.”
The Governor’s trips that are primarily used by commuters returning to the Island may particularly experience this impact. Davis said the SSA is looking at the possibility of using a Vineyard Transit Authority bus to transport park-and-ride commuters.
“If you’re asking two weeks ago, we were OK to go through the summer,” Davis said. “After last week, we’re scrambling to figure out what we can do.”
The board also voted on a couple of contracts. One was a contract with Gibbous LLC from Boston, for information technology management consulting services, which may cost $245,000. Davis said the SSA will be negotiating the contract, but if an agreement cannot be reached, they will go with the second-place company, InfraSystems LLC from Braintree. The board unanimously approved this plan. The board unanimously approved awarding a $776,141 contract with Shipyard and Repair Co. of New London, Conn., for dry-dock and overhaul services for the Gay Head.
The board entered into an executive session to discuss the status of a potential sale of 200 Main St. in Hyannis, and negotiations with Teamsters Union Local No. 59 and its maintenance employees.