The company that operates the Provincetown II, a cruise ship photographed over the weekend carrying a number of passengers in Boston Harbor, many of whom were unmasked, on Monday forcefully defended itself and said it’s in contact with the city to address “what needs working on.”
Provincetown II operator Bay State Cruise Company made its defense in a lengthy written statement, after Marty Walz, a former state representative, on Saturday tweeted out a photo of the ship’s crowded deck in the harbor.
“The picture that was taken from of our vessel, the PROVINCETOWN II, was of our harbor cruise vessel getting underway for a 7-9:30 pm cruise on July 25th,” Bay State Cruise Company said. “It has been broadcasted across traditional and social media.”
The company said the photo captured “74 passengers on the top deck and 34 on the middle deck. As passengers enjoy moving toward the railings when a ship is either leaving port or entering port, it is likely that the same number of people are on the other side of the vessel’s railings as well.”
Not in the photo, the statement said, are “passengers at the forward 1/3 rd of the vessel’s exterior railings. We sailed at 33% capacity. This was the fourth cruise we’ve done since Massachusetts Phase III [of reopening] kicked in. The deck areas of our vessel provide for 28 square feet per passenger (the area of a 6′ circle) for up to 44% of our vessel’s capacity.”
In addition to providing “ample space” for social distancing, the company said, “we are an outdoor venue with the benefit of a constant breeze across the decks as we sail at nine knots.”
The company also pointed to comments Governor Charlie Baker had made July 2, when he said “semi-enclosed outdoor spaces” have limits of 100 persons while outdoor areas do not have reductions in capacity. The ship’s middle deck falls into the former category, while its top deck qualifies as an outdoor area, the company said.
“We assume that lack of regulatory reductions in capacity are because of the benefit of open air, and, particularly in the case of a boat, the fact that air is flowing over the deck as we make our way through the harbor,” the statement said. “Having said that, however, the number of people on the top deck Saturday night was roughly half its legal capacity, and, moreover, has the deck area to provide roughly 150 individuals with 28 square feet of social distance (the area of a 6′ circle).”
The company said most passengers who boarded the vessel Saturday got on in “couples/trios/groups of four, etc,” and that “those 150 separate circles of social distance would become shared, thus making social distance possible for more than 150 people.”
In addition, the company said it conducted exercises in the spring to prepare to operate safely.
“Clearly, this is a situation where the public’s view is far more important than whether or not we are conducting activities in accordance with regulations,” the statement said. “We value our reputation as being a company that does the right thing, and we are working with the City of Boston’s Dept of Health this week to further work on what needs working on. We’ll get this right; we are committed to that effort, and understand how, in our current environment, this photo has created such a stir.”
On Sunday, city officials told the Globe that the Inspectional Services Department and the Boston Public Health Commission’s Environmental Division had been in touch with the company and would visit the site Monday.
On Monday, the Boston Public Health Commission and state’s Department of Labor Standards sent Bay State a cease and desist order, demanding that it put a stop to activities that the public officials said did not conform with the state’s reopening plan.
“This weekend’s mass gathering on a boat in the harbor represents a serious threat to public health,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement. “We’ve made great sacrifices and worked hard over the last few months to stop the very real and very dangerous spread of COVID-19, and it’s vital every person and every business take this public health emergency seriously, and do their part to keep their families, neighbors and communities safe.”
And speaking during a State House briefing Monday, Baker said “we have rules and protocols and people are expected to follow them. If there are issues or concerns people have whether somebody is actually following the rules and the protocols, we refer them to the local community that has direct oversight to its local board of health, and that’s what’s happened here. We have talked to the city of Boston and the local [board of health] in Boston is reaching out and conducting an investigation with respect to the cruise ship.”
A WCVB-TV news crew on Saturday night filmed passengers as they disembarked the ship, though people gave conflicting accounts about adhering to masks and social distancing during the trip.
One woman told the news station “no one was wearing a mask” on board, while a man said he wore a mask for the entire trip.
Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn also voiced concern about the ship in a separate statement Monday.
“It is concerning to see large crowds of people gathering in the midst of a pandemic, when everyone should be following guidelines, wearing masks, and observing physical distancing,” Flynn said.
He said he’s spoken with city officials as well as a company representative and “expressed my disappointment that the passengers on the ship were not wearing masks or observing physical distancing.
Flynn said he plans to visit the company site Monday evening.
“To avoid superspreading events, I believe it is imperative that we make sure that our business owners put strict measures in place for physical distancing, mask wearing, and preventing large gatherings of people,” Flynn said. “If there is a large gathering, like the party cruise this weekend, we should conduct tracing and testing of passengers to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. There should be regular inspections of businesses and facilities where large crowds of people gather to ensure that they adhere to measures on capacity restrictions and mask wearing.”
Jaclyn Reiss, John Hilliard, and Gal Tziperman Lotan of the Globe staff and Globe Correspondent Lucas Phillips contributed to this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.